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Boston Marathon bombings survivor dances onstage at TED Talk

- March 20th, 2014

Nearly one year after the Boston Marathon bombings, the city continues to recuperate from the horrific event.

Those affected continue to piece their lives back together. For Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost the lower part of her left leg while watching the race, that means getting her dancing legs back under her.

On Wednesday, Haslet-Davis, a professional dancer and instructor, took her latest step by doing a rumba onstage — her first public performance since the bombings — at TED2014 in Vancouver.

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Adrianne Haslet-Davis and Christian Lightner at TED2014 at the Vancouver Convention Center, March 19, 2014. (JAMES DUNCAN DAVIDSON)

Outfitted with a revolutionary prosthetic limb, Haslet-Davis had both of her dancing shoes on as the crowd stood for a brief, yet emotional, triumphant routine.

“I’m thrilled to have danced again. It was invigorating to dance publicly with my new leg, but also to realize that my return to dance may have the power to inspire other people to reach for their goals and be proactive in their lives,” she said in a statement. “I was always determined to dance again, and I knew that I had to, that I would, and here I am. My first dance happening to be so near the anniversary of the marathon bombing stands as a reminder that I’m a survivor, not a victim.”

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Adrianne Haslet-Davis and Christian Lightner at TED2014 at the Vancouver Convention Center, March 19, 2014. (JAMES DUNCAN DAVIDSON)

Hugh Herr, head of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab that created Haslet-Davis’ prosthetic leg, was on hand to explain the technology that is helping the ballroom dancer take her life back.

“In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor,” he said. “In 200 days, we put her back.”

Herr explained the design of the leg, which was custom built to suit Haslet-Davis’ body type and requirements as a dancer.

A double amputee — he lost both of his legs to frostbite following a rock climbing accident — Herr sports two prosthetic legs of his own that allow him to continue his favourite hobby.

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Hugh Herr speaks at TED2014 at the Vancouver Convention Center, March 19, 2014. (RYAN LASH)

Herr shared his life-changing story.

“At the time, I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be broken,” he says. “I thought: Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate. This simple but powerful idea was a call to arms to advance technology to the elimination of my own disability, and ultimately the disabilities of others.”

He added: “I imagined a future so advanced that we could rid the world of disability — in which neuroimplants allowed the blind to see, in which the paralyzed could walk with exoskeletons,” he said. “We need to do a better job in bionics to allow full rehabilitation.”

There are many challenges with advancing bionics. Herr said the focus is on three challenges: the mechanical (how prosthetics are attached to the body), the dynamic (how to make prosthetics move like natural limbs) and the electric (how prosthetics connect to the nervous system).

You can read the details of his lecture here.

If the the sight of a teary-eyed Haslet-Davis as she twirled and sashayed across the stage can tell you one thing, it’s that things are moving in the right direction.

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Hugh Herr (left to right) with dancers Adrianne Haslet-Davis and Christian Lightner at TED2014 at the Vancouver Convention Center, March 19, 2014. (JAMES DUNCAN DAVIDSON)

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