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The University of Southampton

‘With the right people, everything is possible’ – adventurers reflect on Ethiopian mountain ascent in student-designed handcycle

Published: 15 November 2020
Wild Wheels

The extraordinary tale behind two wheelchair users’ ascent of one of Africa’s tallest mountains has been told in an in-depth online feature by National Instruments (NI).

Adventurers Alex Lewis and Emebet Allie Deress reached the 4,550-metre summit of Ethiopia’s Ras Dashen following a demanding journey of several days on a power-assisted handcycle designed by engineering students from the University of Southampton.

The handcycle’s full story, from an ambitious Group Design Project through to a gruelling expedition in torrential rain, is detailed in the new article in NI’s Perspectives series.

Mechanical Engineering students Christopher Charalambous, Junaid Mahomed, Gayan Kahatota Liyanage, Jin Teh, Guillaume Henry and Tom Parker, who all graduated in 2018, designed the cycle with supervisors Professor Andrew Cruden and Dr Lindsay-Marie Armstrong.

Alex Lewis is a quadruple amputee after losing his arms and legs in a severe illness at 33, while Emebet lost both her legs after she was hit by a car aged three. The handcycle project overcame several engineering challenges for the pair, such as how someone without arms could power, steer and brake the vehicle.

“I couldn’t believe we made it,” Alex reflects on reaching the summit in the NI article. “It took so many people to get us to that point. With the right people, everything is possible.”

With renewed support from Southampton engineering students, the Wild Wheelchairs team is planning a new challenge for a solar-powered handcycle across 10 days in the Gobi Desert. The expedition, which was originally planned for this year, is now being scheduled for the summer of 2021.

“I’ve done more in the last six years than I had in the 33 years before this happened,” Alex says. “It hasn’t damaged my life; it’s enhanced it. As my son grows up, he will see that my disability never got in my way.”

Read the full article online: Engineering Through Adversity on Ethiopia's Tallest Mountain.

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