And there you have it: the visionary idea of Orthotec Managing Director Stefan Dürger in the summer of 2017, which led to the development of the innovative OT FOXX racing wheelchair line. The idea came to Stefan Dürger as he was walking along the racing track opposite his office, where he used to go occasionally to get some fresh air and to clear his head. While he was out, he would watch the athletes doing their training laps in the sports facilities of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation in Nottwil. Orthotec's core area of business consists of aids for people with a spinal cord injury. These include sports equipment such as racing wheelchairs. However, at the time, there were none on the market that met Stefan Dürger's expectations as a mechanical engineer: aerodynamically perfect, simultaneously light and rigid, as swift as an arrow, and as precise as a Swiss watch.
The spark of an idea developed into a blazing fire: a Swiss racing wheelchair, Swiss engineering, Swiss made, used by Swiss wheelchair athletes! Stefan Dürger discussed it with his team: “Can we build the world's fastest racing wheelchair?” he asked his experts for special constructions. “We can. Not on our own. But we can.” The Swiss Paraplegic Foundation supported the plan and Swiss Paraplegic Research also got involved. This is because it was clear from the very beginning that using elite sports as an innovation driver would also yield insights for the day-to-day life of wheelchair users. Top-ranking wheelchair athlete joined the team in the key role of an athlete who would use his experience to support the development. Under the working title “The Swiss Project”, the endeavour was born. And everyone was delighted when the Marcel Hug came on board as a key technology partner with enthusiasm and commitment that went far beyond what was expected. This meant that Orthotec not only had access to world-class engineering know-how, but also to a wind tunnel used by the Formula 1 team Sauber Group Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN and others . Factors such as aerodynamics and directional stability are not only key for motor sports, but also for wheelchair racing.
Two in one sweep Orthotec's mission is #freedomofmovement for people with a spinal cord injury and other disabilities. Due to its great commitment to wheelchair sports, the orthopaedic aids specialist has launched two models at once: the OT FOXX M1 as a top-end product and the OT FOXX P1 as a higher-end option that is even more adjustable to the athlete in terms of size. Both racing wheelchairs have a full-carbon frame, and are aerodynamically optimised using state-of-the-art calculation methods and wind tunnel testing at Sauber Group and in Immenstaad. Aerodynamics experts from Swiss Side are also involved and have developed suitable wheels. Triathlete stars such as Patrick Lange, Daniela Ryf and Jan van Berkel work with Swiss Side to optimise their speed and real performance.
Innovation that helps numerous people Determining the optimal seating position in the wheelchair was fundamental to the success of the new development. This adjustment affects the transmission of forces, aerodynamics, as well as the longer-term strain on the athlete's body. When using a wheelchair, the shoulder is usually placed under excessive strain – not just in elite sports, but in particular also in day-to-day use. This led to the development of a measuring device, known as an ergometer, that allows the extremely quick measurement of various seating positions and their effects on the transmission of forces. In this area, Swiss Paraplegic Research worked in close cooperation with ETH Zürich and the Orthotec team. The ergometer was intentionally constructed in such a way that it not only allows individual measurements for racing sport, but also helps adjust the seating position in a wheelchair for everyday use. This means that “The Swiss Project” has also provided a direct benefit for the community of wheelchair users.
Developed together with athletes In addition to Marcel Hug, athlete Patricia Eachus later joined the team. The two athletes played a key role in the development of the OT FOXX racing wheelchairs. Their feedback helped to optimise the fit and features of the wheelchair models. In the process, engineers asked numerous questions and listened carefully to the answers. As paradoxical as it sounds, they almost had to be able to experience for themselves what it is like not to feel anything in some parts of the body due to a spinal cord injury. Cooperation between the partners was based on the courage to try new things and mutual trust. The hard work was worth it: in June 2021, the OT FOXX M1 and the OT FOXX P1 were presented to the general public and are now available to all interested athletes from orthotecsports.com. The very first time he raced in the wheelchair at the Paralympics in Tokyo in August and September 2021, Marcel Hug won four gold medals and broke the 1500-metre world record in the T54 classification. He later broke the marathon world record of 22 years, which had been set by wheelchair legend Heinz Frei on the same course in Oita, Japan in 1999. He also broke the world record in the 5000-metre event for the second time. Human and machine in harmony.
As smart as a fox How did the racing wheelchairs get their name? There is a four-metre high mural of a fox on the wall of the wheelchair sports training hall on the Nottwil Campus. The fox is a fabulous symbol of how smart athletes need to be: they need to use sophisticated tactics, utilise their energy efficiently, and recognise the right moment. Inspired by the mural and its message, the Orthotec racing wheelchairs have incorporated the fox into their name.