World-Renowned Greenwood Prosthetist Helps Paralympic Athletes

GREENWOOD (KFSM) -- As athletes get ready for the 2020 Summer Paralympics, a few of them are right here in our area this week to get their prosthetics aligned and fitted by a world-renowned prosthetist.

Francois Van Der Watt is the inventor of athletically engineered prosthetic blades and specialized in working with amputee athletes from around the world and he does all of this from the River Valley.

"I was fortunate enough to work with one of the original blade runners, Oscar Pistorius. He kind of lead the way into the high performance," Van Der Watt said.

One paralympic athlete is Trenten Merrill who competes in track and field and Van Der Watt said creating a prosthetic for someone like him is much more challenging than someone who needs an artificial limb for walking.

"You`re looking at where they place the foot, where their line of progression is gonna be," Van Der Watt said. "Do they have a balance issue, coordination issues and you want to address those points."

Merrill's foot was amputated when he was 14, after it was crushed when he was hit by a car.

"It was very difficult at first," Merrill said. "But, I`ve developed this attitude and determination to push forward and follow my dreams."

Those dreams led him to track and field and getting a running blade.

"It was an exciting experience because I felt if I can run fast without a running blade, how much faster can I run with a running blade," Merrill said.

But making sure that blade is aligned correctly can determine how he will do in competition.

"That can be night and day because alignment is key," Merrill said. "These are like springs and you want to maximize the spring and you want to make sure you`re contacting the ground in the right area. It`s a lot of trial and error and there`s no one way fits all, but that`s where you develop this personal relationship with your prosthetist and you grow together and it becomes faster and faster."

Van Der Watt moved to the United States in 2002 and has customized prosthetics for many paralympic athletes over the years.

Merrill will compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in long jump and 100 meter track and field events.

For more information about Van Der Watt Prosthetics & Orthotics, click here.

For more about Team USA Paralympic athlete, Trenten Merrill, click here.