Los Osos residents John and Joseph Cornelius will make their return to the annual SLO Triathlon this month, and a group of Cal Poly engineering students are again helping the father-and-son duo complete the complex race.
A student-designed bike trailer will allow John to pull Joseph, his 24-year-old son who has severe cerebral palsy and is not able to walk or talk, during the 15-mile bike course full of rolling hills.
It's the latest assist from Cal Poly students to the Cornelius tandem who, along with a strong group of supporters, are recognized along the Central Coast as "Team Joseph."
They've competed in hundreds of races together over the years — from 5Ks to marathons — but the triathlon presents a unique challenge with the biking and swimming segments.
In 2014, Cal Poly students designed the Aquabullet, a 6-by-4-foot floatation device that enables Joseph to glide along the water, feeling the sensation of swimming, as he's tugged along by a swimmer harnessed ahead of him.
Last year, students created a jogger for Joseph, a former San Luis Obispo High student who suffered between 75 and 100 seizures per day when he was young, his father said.
The trailer Joseph previously rode in behind John's bike lacked safety and comfort features, leaving Cal Poly mechanical engineering students Keely Thompson, Ryan Meinhardt and Curtis Wathne to create an alternative option.
"The team met with Joseph and his dad, sometimes weekly, and did multiple custom fitting sessions as the design and build progressed," faculty adviser Sarah Harding said in a school news release. "They really got to know their customer and his unique needs."
The new trailer has a steel roll bar, a five-point racing harness, a custom seat and an attachment that allows the trailer to stay upright in the event of a bike crash.
John Cornelius, a retired Rite Aid store manager with a degree in biomedical engineering, said "the key part when we sat down was safety."
The trailer also features a carbon fiber footplate, since Joseph's spastic quadriplegia caused him to break previous footplates. Aluminum fenders prevent him from coming into contact with the wheels, the suspension has been upgraded, and a shade hood protects him from harsh sunlight, the school said.
Harding said the trailer frame could someday have universal appeal for adults with disabilities.
Thompson, who recently graduated from the university, said Joseph was thrilled when he saw the trailer for the first time during Cal Poly's Spring Project Expo in May.
"In that moment, we all gave a huge sigh of relief that Joseph loved the trailer," Thompson said, "and were so excited to see him and John happy."
John Cornelius said the partnership with Cal Poly has provided Joseph with more freedom, impacting both his mental and physical health.
"When you do this with him, you feel his energy," John Cornelius said. "When he's in the bike (trailer), it's ear-to-ear smiles."