In 2015, elite wheelchair marathoner Arielle Rausin didn’t realize that a 3D printing assignment for college would change her game. She had spent hours molding race gloves from melted plastic pellets—an improvement over commercially available ones made of soft leather and rubber. The molded plastic gloves fit better and were more durable. They also improved performance. Lighter and harder than commercial gloves, they reduced arm and hand fatigue.
In scanning her molded gloves, Rausin found she could make 3D printed replicas in a fraction of the time. Besides being cheap, easy to make, and fitting “like a glove,” the printed gloves were as hard as the pellet gloves, but half the weight. With an added groove printed into each glove, Rausin was also able to improve the efficiency of her stroke. In short, the 3D printed gloves enabled Rausin to race faster for longer, giving her an edge over competitors.
After creating viable race gloves for herself, Rausin provided them to teammates. In reflecting on her own challenges in pursuing wheelchair racing, Rausin became motivated to help other para-athletes. Despite having no prior experience in design engineering or additive manufacturing (the industry term for 3D printing), Rausin started Ingenium Manufacturing in 2016 to produce custom gloves for elite wheelchair marathoners. For those new to the sport, she also developed a less expensive glove that would fit any athlete. The following is based on conversations and email exchanges with Rausin.
Not too many inventors can boast an initial prototype that works as envisioned, but you were able to race in your first pair of printed gloves at the 2015 Boston Marathon. Tell us about that experience.
After the first marathon I pushed using the gloves, I felt a little proud, but mostly relieved that both the gloves and I survived in one piece! It also felt good to help out my teammates, many of whom had taught me so much about wheelchair racing over the years. Making gloves for them felt like a nice way to return the favor.
What inspired you to share your invention with other athletes?
What helped motivate me to continue developing the gloves after I had my own pair was the thought that I’d be able to help other athletes succeed with the new technology. Pellet gloves are so hard to make, and only elite athletes typically have access to well-made pairs through personal connections. A hard glove that anyone could buy online wasn’t available and I wanted to share the opportunity so other athletes, especially young ones, would have more options. It also helped that I was really interested in and excited about 3D printing!
You mentioned that many wheelchair marathoners now use Ingenium gloves. What do you think about that?
When I started designing the universal glove, it felt amazing to get feedback on it from kids in particular. Grassroots athletes and kids don’t have access to all the amazing resources I had living and working at a Paralympic Training Center, so I wanted to make something they could benefit from as well, not just professional athletes. Emails from excited parents whose child got a new PR [personal record] using the gloves would always make my day. Seeing my friends win Paralympic medals using the gloves was a great feeling. At the Move United Junior Nationals this past July, at least 75% of the kids there were pushing with Ingenium gloves, and that actually made me teary-eyed. The sport of wheelchair racing gave me so much, if my gloves can be tiny part of that for another kid with big dreams, that means the world to me.
To what do you attribute your success as an inventor and entrepreneur?
It was fun to experiment and learn 3D printing inside out. My resilience to keep working on designing a universal glove stemmed from my racing career. When I first joined the University of Illinois team, I was very inexperienced and slow. It took five years of training every day to make my first national team and become a funded athlete, so I learned that good things take a lot of time and effort. There were times with racing and glove making that I wanted to give up. But when I would take a breath, pause, and reflect on how far I came, it helped me see my envisioned future as more achievable.
On top of all that, having the support and mentoring from my coach and professor was invaluable, along with my teammates and friends as collaborators and beta testers.
What major problems did you and your collaborators need to overcome?
One of the biggest obstacles I faced was determining a design that was both able to accommodate different hand shapes and still feel like it was a good fit. Originally the gloves had a wraparound handle that would run half-way across the back of an athlete’s hand, but that didn’t allow for much variation in terms of palm width. Athletes would have the same length and circumference fingers, but wouldn’t fit into the same size glove because the curved handle was either too roomy or too tight. We opted to go for a flat wider handle that was still easy to grip without having to curve the geometry or create another required measurement.
I also wanted to make the gloves as easy to order online as possible, so the fewer measurements the athlete needed to take, the better. After designing the flat handle, it was still a bit difficult to figure out how many sizes to make and what all those sizes were, but after about a year or so of orders we determined 5 unique sizes were enough and haven’t changed that since (except for very unusual circumstances).
Another obstacle I faced was constantly maintaining the 3D printers. As a more liberal arts kind of person, I had almost no background in machinery repair of any kind, but it’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube! My staff and I definitely broke our fair share of 3D printers—we fried a variety of motherboards—but with every printer I fixed I gained more confidence and now I feel pretty secure in my ability to diagnose and fix most 3D printer issues. 3D printers are finicky machines, so from the beginning it was something I was forced to get comfortable with fast!
Who or what has encouraged your inventive thinking?
I really just have to thank my parents and amazing teachers for that. My parents worked hard to place me in schools with a strong arts program my entire life so growing up I was always playing piano and violin, acting and singing in musical theater. Both of my parents are creative as well, so making and creating things has been a constant activity in my life.
There is definitely some creative crossover for me between 3D printing and cooking. I view both as experiments, tiny trials that can reap large rewards if successful, but won’t wreak havoc if a failure results either. I’ve made some really bad glove prototypes and many really bad recipes, but the risk vs. reward game is fun to me! The possibility that I cook something amazing or print a groundbreaking glove design invigorates and energizes me to keep trying (and often failing) rather than making the same things over and over again.
I credit a lot of my creativity to my disability. As a disabled person myself, I deeply understand some of the challenges people in my community face, one of the largest being lack of access. Often, we have no choice but to be resourceful, even when just trying to accomplish basic daily tasks. Becoming disabled helped me cultivate empathy by experiencing firsthand the transition from leading a normative, nondisabled life, then suddenly being thrust into a disabled one. Being a disabled inventor gives me a unique perspective and opened my eyes to the many needed inventions that would give PWD [people with disabilities] a full, richer life.
What have you learned from inventing?
It’s taught me to meet people where they are instead of trying to get everyone to fit one norm. For racing gloves, that means developing different styles of gloves so people can try different things and find the right shape and design for them, but more broadly it means creating products, spaces, and opportunities where all different types of bodies feel comfortable and included.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, all races and competitions were put on hold, and so was Ingenium. I had all these printers and lots of time so I figured one of the best ways I could help was to print face shields and masks to send to my teammates, friends, and family that needed them. My friend and colleague, Joey Peters, then had the idea to send masks to PWD. We now know certain disabilities cause people to have a much higher risk of complications from COVID-19 infections, but at the time we just knew PWD were a vulnerable community and wanted to help. Making masks during the lockdown gave us a sense of purpose in a time of such chaos and uncertainty. PWD are also statistically more likely to live below the poverty line and lack financial resources, so giving out masks for free removed the financial barrier for people in the community.
The switch from printing gloves to masks was an easy one because the manufacturing process was basically the same, just the assembly and materials were slightly different. I also had the confidence that my partner and I could figure it out, just as I figured out how to make gloves for the first time a few years back.
Arielle Rausin will be featured in the Lemelson Center’s upcoming exhibition Change Your Game at the National Museum of American History. Not only will the exhibition seek to raise visitors’ awareness of the impact of invention and innovation in the history of sports, but it will also encourage visitors to explore their own capacity to invent.
- Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Video: Rausin creates 3D printed wheelchair racing gloves for Paralympians,” 2016. https://beckman.illinois.edu/about/news/article/2016/08/22/8f3a5b6f-08f8-4033-bcb8-570a18329f06.
- Champaign County Economic Development Corporation. “Arielle Rausin.” YouTube, 2017. https://youtu.be/-4oHY7rcba4.
- Illinois MakerLab, College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. “Meet the Maker—Arielle Rausin.” YouTube, 2015. https://youtu.be/AhLMsJ3Pdvg.
- Ingenium Manufacturing. https://www.ingenium3d.com.
- Jones, Aerelle, Wheels of Fire. “Wheelchair Racing Glove Types Explained.” YouTube, 2020. https://youtu.be/F6tdrMv2bzA.
- Rausin, Arielle. Wheelchair racing glove. US Patent Application 2019/0313717, filed October 17, 2019.