Twenty-year-old Los Osos resident Joseph Cornelius can’t control movement of his limbs, but he nevertheless loves exercising with his father.
Cornelius, a San Luis Obispo High student, has severe cerebral palsy and can’t walk or talk. But this Sunday, he’ll participate in the 35th annual San Luis Obispo Triathlon along with more than 1,000 other athletes.
To make it happen, three Cal Poly students designed a 6-by-4 floatation device that enables Cornelius to glide along the water, feeling the sensation of swimming, as he’s tugged along by a swimmer harnessed ahead of him.
Cornelius demonstrated how the device, called the Aquabullet, works on Tuesday at Cal Poly along with his father, 58-year-old John Cornelius, a Los Osos Rite Aid store manager.
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As Joseph Cornelius is pulled through the pool, positioned on his stomach on the flat mesh attached to PCV pipe, he can see ahead of him through a clear shield that protects his face from the water.
The feeling of gliding on the water allows gives him a thrill.
“Once we get out there on the water, and he gets into his comfort zone, he just melts into bliss,” John Cornelius said. “The sun, the wind, the movement, he just loves it. He’s in seventh heaven.”
John Cornelius will help his son complete the triathlon by pushing his wheelchair on the 3.1-mile running segment, biking with him on 15.3-mile ride, and swimming a portion of the half-mile pool leg.
They’ve already competed together as “Team Joseph” in about 100 races from 5Ks to marathons — but never a triathlon because of the pool component.
John Cornelius said he’s extremely appreciative of the work of Cal Poly mechanical engineering students Lilly Hoff and Paul Sands and kinesiology major Andrea Voigt for designing and building the hydrodynamic watercraft.
The Aquabullet is one of about 50 projects Cal Poly is undertaking from a National Science Foundation grant. The grant provided $25,000 for five years.
“The thing about something like the Aquabullet is that there’s nothing really like it out there for someone to buy,” said James Widmann, a Cal Poly mechanical engineering professor. “It’s totally custom made. For the students, they feel great about it because they get to see the impact these types of projects make on other people’s lives.”