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Road2Rio Challenge

Cambridge Social Ventures alumnus joins forces with a venture in this year’s cohort to complete Olympic-themed challenge.

John Willis

John Willis

Cambridge Social Ventures graduate and CEO of Power2Inspire, John Willis, has been participating in all 34 Olympic and Paralympic sporting events, across the UK, in the run-up to and during the 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

John was born without forearms or lower legs, and after participating in a triathlon relay with two non-disabled friends in 2013, he founded Power2Inspire, a social enterprise dedicated to integrating disabled and non-disabled sport on a national level. Power2Inspire, which participated in Cambridge Social Ventures in 2014-15, wants everyone to have the opportunity to participate in sport, regardless of body type, age, disability or ethnicity.

John’s “Road2Rio Challenge” began over eight months ago and aims to raise the profile of inclusive sports. The challenge also aims to raise money for “PowerHouse Games,” a programme created by Power2Inspire, which delivers adapted sports in schools, organisations, and local community groups, so that everyone can play.

John had already embarked on the Road2Rio Challenge when he met Oliver Armitage & Emil Hewage, Co-Founders and Directors of Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems (CBAS) at the Cambridge Future Business Centre, home to Cambridge Social Ventures, part of the Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School.

CBAS is part of this year’s Cambridge Social Ventures cohort. Formed in 2015, CBAS aims to improve and standardise the connection between bionic devices and the neural and soft-tissue systems of the body. The firm is developing a medical device that uses advanced bioengineering and monitoring technologies to act as the “USB connector” of prosthetics.

Oliver, Emil and their team at CBAS agreed to help John with his challenge as the NHS had no existing options for someone of John’s condition in four sports: archery, tennis, rowing and kayaking. While the devices are more sophisticated than they used to be, there are no “sport specific” clamps available and they couldn’t help John with everything he wanted to do.
A grant from the John Stewart Memorial Fund of £5,000 enabled CBAS to create the attachments required to connect a standard NHS socket to a bow, tennis racket and an oar or paddle. Working closely with John, they have been able to fine tune the devices for each sport, not only for John to take part successfully but also to make them widely available to any amputee who wants to take part in these sports.

John’s Road2Rio ends on 24 September, when he takes part in his final challenge at an archery event.