Illinois start-up creates training tool to help Paralympic athletes track stroke cadence


Kim Gudeman, CSL

When U.S. wheelchair racing athletes compete at the Paralympic Games in Rio this month, they will have a training advantage, thanks to a new app developed by an Illinois start-up company.

Photos courtesy of Rithmio
Photos courtesy of Rithmio
Photos courtesy of Rithmio
The wheelchair athletes have been using an Android Wear smartwatch application that measures their stroke cadence, helping them better understand their stroke efficiency. Cadence Counter was developed by Chicago-based Rithmio, which was co-founded by Illinois alumnus Adam Tilton and CSL and Mechanical Science and Engineering faculty member Prashant Mehta.

Cadence Counter is unique because it collects data about the movement of the athlete, not the wheelchair.

“Historically we’ve used tech solutions that are attached to the athlete’s chair and provide insights on speed or distance travelled,” said Adam Bleakney, the U.S. wheelchair track coach and also a Paralympic silver medalist. “Cadence is a metric I’ve wanted all of my coaching career to provide insight on our athletes’ form, not just the chairs. Rithmio is groundbreaking in terms of what it will provide me and the athletes during training, including improvement on performance margins.”

The mobile app works in tandem with an Android Wear smartwatch and is built on Rithmio’s motion recognition software, which learns an athlete’s form and displays the cadence, or quantity of strokes per minute, calculated in real-time.

Illinois graduate student Amanda McGrory, a four-time Paralympic medalist who has won more than 30 marathons, has tested the Cadence Counter tool. She is enthusiastic about the app’s instant feedback and control, which she says is far better than previous methods, such as counting strokes and matching movements with a digital metronome.

“Cadence has been an elusive metric that we’ve never had access to, as existing technology couldn’t be adapted for use in a racing chair,” said McGrory, who will compete in the 800-meter, 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter, and marathon races in Rio. “By using the Rithmio app in addition to live speed, we are able, for the first time ever, to have a reliable way to monitor force application and stroke power.”

Marissa Siebel, co-founder of IntelliWheels and previously a trainer on Bleakney’s team, served as an advisor on the project: “Individuals who use a wheelchair need to have access to the same resources as their able-bodied counterparts. IntelliWheels is excited to work with Rithmio and the Paralympic athletes to help bring fitness and health solutions to market.”

The Cadence Counter app is currently at the beta testing stage and is not yet available to the public. In addition to Cadence Counter, Rithmio recently released the smartwatch app, Rithmio EDGE, which tracks weightlifting exercises.

“We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Coach Adam and the world-class Paralympic athletes training in Champaign,” said Adam Tilton, CEO & co-founder of Rithmio. “Whether it is to train smarter, perform better or heal faster, there is tremendous potential to help athletes gain new knowledge and a competitive edge.”

Rithmio’s communications team contributed to this report.