TRS devices help amputees reclaim work, play skills
Spurred by frustration with available prosthetics and determined to continue his active life as a sportsman and athlete, Radocy created his own devices.
Now decades later, Boulder-based Therapeutic Recreation Systems Inc., has helped thousands of amputees reach goals, reclaim skills and even reach world records that would have otherwise been impossible.
"We're a niche business in prosthetics that builds equipment primarily for people missing their hands through congenital or traumatic loss," said Bob Radocy, president and chief executive of TRS. The company employs eight people, completing design, development and manufacturing in Boulder. It sells about 1,000 prosthetics globally each year to individuals and third-party organizations such as insurance companies or workers'-compensations programs.
TRS products don't look like hands, Radocy said, but are tools designed for a specific purpose, such as gripping and swinging a golf club, swimming, playing basketball or lifting weights.
Radocy began the company in 1979 as a self-financed endeavor.
"I made my first couple of devices as a personal project, never thinking I'd get into business," he said. Later he joined forces with a University of Colorado assistant professor, and the two used their houses as collateral to secure a $150,000 federal small-business loan targeted toward handicap assistance. They paid the 15-year loan back in eight years, Radocy said.
Since then, TRS has sourced a small amount of venture capital when needed. Currently TRS is a C corporation with Radocy as primary holder and a small group of additional shareholders. Radocy expects TRS to gross more than $1 million this year.
"All of us need success stories, and here's a guy that just refused to fail," said Russ Brown, a retired prosthetist who worked to fit Radocy soon after his amputation and has watched TRS grow from a personal project to the success it is today.
Slow, steady growth coupled with Radocy's exceptional customer-service philosophy has helped capture success and retain employees such as Tony Ascinar, who has been at TRS for almost 28 years.
"We like to provide the best service we possibly can ... and build every hand like it's going to be ours," said Ascinar, TRS vice president for manufacturing. Ascinar oversees production and quality control, among other things. He loves the work, he said, which is often driven by Radocy's hunt for innovation.
"Bob will come up with new ideas all the time, and he'll get so excited about them," Ascinar said.
One example is the company's new device called the Cobra, an attachable tool for throwing a baseball. Before Radocy lost his left hand, he was an avid baseball player and a lefty. One difficult adjustment to life as an amputee was his inability to throw as he used to, Radocy said. After fiddling with Cobra prototypes, Radocy and Ascinar hit the parking lot for a test run. The device allowed Radocy to throw left-handed with speed and precision almost immediately; he's been clocked at a 50-mph hardball pitch.
"It was great," Ascinar said. "His eyes got really wide, and he said he hadn't been able to do that for 40 years."
The Cobra is a one-of-a-kind, amputee-inspired device, and living as an amputee made Radocy a better prosthetic designer.
"I have, say, a clearer understanding of how to solve a problem, and that's been a useful and successful formula" because it cuts down on design time, Radocy said.
In addition to dozens of prosthetic sports attachments, 40 percent of the company's business comes from prosthetic crawling devices for infants born without hands or feet. The company also makes specialized attachments for individuals all over the world, such as well-known amputee and Boulder resident Aron Ralston, who made headlines after self-amputating one arm after a climbing accident in a slot canyon in Utah.
On another occasion, TRS took a call from an Olympic-class power lifter. "He was bench pressing such a titanic amount of weight using another one of our devices that the bar would slip from his grip," Ascinar said. TRS went to work, and the athlete set a world record using the new device, the Black Iron Master.
All TRS prosthetics are body powered rather than electric, Ascinar said, making them durable and less susceptible to damage. None of the devices costs more than $2,000, a portion of which typically is paid by insurance and only a fraction of the cost of a biomechanical prosthetic. It's the impact on customers' lives that motivates Radocy and his staff more than the financial gain, though.
"As you can imagine, it's very rewarding when people call us up and say thanks for helping," he said. "The product that I used changed my life."
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