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Mountaineer And Inventor With Disability To Speak As Part Of Wallace H. Coulter School Of Engineering Dedication Oct. 10
[A photo of Peter Rieke for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/rieke.jpg.]
Peter Rieke has always been an outdoorsman — working as a logger in Montana, rock climbing in the deserts of the Southwest, and conquering the mountain ranges of South America and Canada.
When a rock climbing accident in 1994 left him paralyzed from the waist down, Rieke immediately began to put his engineering skills to use — in search of ways that would enable him to start climbing again.
"It was a selfish motivation," explains Rieke, the president of Mobility Engineering Inc. in Pasco, Wash. "I grew up hiking, hunting and fishing in the Northwest and when that was eliminated from my life, I refused to accept that these activities were impossible."
As an inventor of human-powered outdoor equipment for people with disabilities, Rieke will share his experiences in a talk titled "The Frontier of Ability – Regaining Access to the Outdoors" at dedication events for the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering on Friday, October 10, at Clarkson University. The discussion is open to the public.
Rieke's first invention was the SnowPod, a 45-pound tractor-like vehicle, which is powered by a hand crank and mounted on snowmobile treads. Relying on the SnowPod and his own strength, Rieke became the first wheelchair user to scale 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier in Washington state in June of 2000. Three years later, Rieke had built three more SnowPods and led a team of four disabled climbers up Washington state's Mt. Shasta.
"The whole point of climbing mountains is not necessarily to get to the top, or to be the first disabled person to get to the top," says Rieke, who also works as an electrochemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "It was important for me to demonstrate that this isn't a unique thing — there are other people who can join in, too."
Clarkson University School of Business Professor Peter Diplock first met Peter Rieke two years ago, after inviting him to speak to a group of graduate business students.
"Peter has a very powerful message — that perseverance and self-discipline are critically important to removing barriers when people tell us something's not possible," says Diplock. "He shows that it may not be easy, but it is possible."
For Rieke, the hope is to make the world more accessible, not just for athletes like himself but for all people with disabilities.
"I want to encourage engineers to stop focusing on tasks, like climbing stairs and jumping curbs and instead, try to focus on what people really want to achieve," says Rieke. "It's not just where you can go but where you can go with family and friends and not be left behind. If your invention doesn't allow people to interact, it won't be popular."
That guiding principle is reflected in Clarkson’s Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering's stated mission — "Technology Serving Humanity.” Rieke hopes the school's mission will bring greater attention to the needs of people with disabilities.
"Most of these inventions are created by a couple of geeks in a garage making stuff happen," says Rieke. "I'd like to see it become more formalized and gain a little more stature in the field."
Peter Rieke will speak at 3:20 pm on Friday, October 10, in Room 177 of the CAMP Building on the Clarkson campus as part of Celebration Weekend.The weekend also marks the inauguration of Clarkson's new president, Anthony G. Collins, as well as the dedication of the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering.