Meet the brain behind the wheelchair taxi

Written by By Alexandra Stiles, CNN • Updated 22nd October 2016 A call to arms: Disabled London taxi driver David Mullins pushes the Paralympic torch ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. After …

Written by By Alexandra Stiles, CNN • Updated 22nd October 2016

A call to arms: Disabled London taxi driver David Mullins pushes the Paralympic torch ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio.

After making the decision to abandon its traditional design in 2008, this is the first Paralympic Games that could completely redefine, and transcend, the meaning of sporting achievements. It is a culmination of months of effort, collaborations and, often, intense suffering. It is this road that David Mullins has ridden for.

As the Paralympic torch reached its destination last week, the influential cabbie who spearheaded the project to design the torch has chosen this opportunity to push its boundaries further.

“We felt that there is so much room and potential,” says David Mullins, the driver of Camper van who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1980s. “We can’t do the traditional stories in the Paralympics because there aren’t enough athletes.”

Mullins founded the Make it Happen Campaign two years ago, which aims to help “disabled people achieve their dreams.” In celebration of the Paralympic motto — two words that refer to reclaiming the spirit of the games — he has made his simple goal of designing an empowering torch more personal.

“Think of something that would make you feel proud of yourself — a sign, a design, a house, something,” says Mullins. “We don’t know what these things look like but we want to create something — even an illustration on a stick — that would make you want to go up there and run with that.”

A compromise

The compromise he arrived at to answer this question was a contemporary symbol created with a team of artists from around the world who include Tomota Takahashi of Japan, Alan Pope of UK, Shingo Yamamoto of Japan and Caio Rego of Portugal. The aim was to “combine forms to represent the spirit of the Paralympic Games with the constraints of human mobility,” according to the petition letter written to the International Paralympic Committee

Takahashi designed the Paralympic flame. From left to right: “My flame” – Tomota Takahashi

“For a moment, I thought ‘What is the face?,'” says Tomota Takahashi, one of the artists who worked with Mullins. “I had thoughts about hair, eyes, each eye getting bigger and bigger in size. I imagined running; running down the course, crossing the finish line.”

The flame was crafted by having the different elements based on two things: distance and minutes in a day. It combined these images of the Paralympic flame with mapping capabilities. “The photo data from Rio was created then ‘stacked’ with the width of the torch,” explains the artist. “At this point we all looked to each other and commented as to who the “torchbearer” would be. The task then became a narrative.”

Caio Rego

“The story is basically about the freedom of human beings and the ability to do something that you can’t do normally,” he adds. “We could all be associated with the torch as it symbolizes the power to overcome your disability.”

The story is about the power to overcome your disability. Caio Rego

Rego joined up after experiencing the greatest risk of travelling alone in the developing world. Rego runs the African language school for people with physical disabilities and the blind in the capital city, Pretoria. She was transported by State Minister Collins Chabane and the public servant feared his wife would find him a horrible example.

“I want to show that being alone in those kinds of conditions doesn’t have to mean a bad experience,” says Rego. “On the contrary, it shows how strong you can be.”

The novel shape of the flame helped Rego to convey this message. Rego and her team opted for a unique shape that helps make the flame seem “holistic.” The flame itself has two facets. One side is smaller and lighter in weight — to the point that it could be used as a smartphone. The other side becomes larger with the shape that resembles a racing wheel. It therefore represents for Rego the sense of power, strength and determination to surpass the obstacles that you face in life.

Takahashi and Rego also used an interesting material. Both used red plastic for the flame. However Takahashi went one step further and used a combination of neoprene and rubber in order to serve as protective and keep it flame-resistant and cool.

“The flame is made to last,” says Takahashi. “It was important to have a way to replace it for years to come.”

Challenges and progress

While the inspiration

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