Baldwin — While developing a new lightweight, collapsible training hurdle, Baker University coach track Dennis Weber had to clear a few hurdles of his own.
Weber, university wellness director and coach for the men's and women's track and cross country teams, said the first year he coached at Baker, a student suffered a serious knee injury during practice.
Hoping to prevent such injuries, Weber set up hurdles with sticks balanced between two chairs or cones. But the pieces were clumsy to carry and arrange.
"I wanted something flexible to various heights and not a lot of pieces," he said.
He decided to build his own hurdle one that was lightweight, easy to carry, durable, adjustable to different heights and collapsible.
He topped metal legs, which resemble an ironing board stand, with a hollow plastic board, but needed a joint that would enable the hurdle to collapse when struck by an athlete. He could envision the part, but couldn't find it in any hardware store or salvage yard.
HIS LUCKY break came in the form of a Father's Day gift from his wife. The gift, a golf pull cart, had a joint with gear teeth to raise or lower the adjustable handle. Weber made a mold of the part, reshaped it slightly and created an epoxy copy to use on the hurdle.
With all the parts in place, Weber started testing his hurdle about a year ago and applied for a patent last summer.
The hurdle can raise from 4 to 42 inches, but a spring attached to the joint forces the hurdle to collapse flat with the slightest bump to the board.
Weber said the hurdle is ideal for training both beginning and advanced hurdlers. Beginners can jump without fear of hitting the board, and more experienced hurdlers can concentrate on speed without fear of injury.
WEBER SAID he solicited help in shaping parts for the hurdle from Gary Leonard, a Baldwin manufacturer of remote control airplanes, and Bill Hey, owner of Hey Machinery in Baldwin.
A California company, SPRINGCO, now manufactures Weber's patent-pending "Flex-Height Trainer," which weighs about 5 pounds, as compared with typical hurdles that weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. Weber will continue to produce the spring joint, which he will supply to the company.
The hurdles will be available through SPRINGCO's fall catalog, he said.
Weber said he designed the hurdle to prevent injuries and aid in training, not to make money.
"I have about $3,000 wrapped up in it," he said. "It'll probably take several years just to get my money back. I'm more excited about kids getting to use it."