Maine Based AMP Fins, LLC Offers A Little Bit of Freedom to Amputees

By Maggie Hlywa-January 5, 2014     When John Birmingham, Executive Director of Warriors In The Workplace, first told me about the small company in Maine that was poised to become a world leader in swim fins for amputees, I was excited about the possibilities. One of the missions of Warriors In The Workplace is to help restore hope to our returning veterans and to lower the incidence of suicide, which today hovers around 22 per day. AMP Fins, LLC offers an experience for wounded veterans, and any leg amputee, to again experience the freedom of movement they felt in the water prior to their injury.

One of the first things that Randy Lord of AMP Fins LLC said to me when we spoke was “How many amputees have you seen at the beach?” As I stammered out a very unintelligent “Umm”, he answered for me, “Probably never”. This caught me off guard. As someone who takes solace from being near water, just the idea of not being able to escape to the beach or to listen to the flow of water to calm my mind brought on stress. The freedom to return to the water that AMP Fin offers amputees will work to bring a sense of normalcy and fun back to summer vacations, workouts, and adventures.

Randy and Lori Lord began their mission to create a swim fin for amputees with the simple idea of allowing Randy to experience swimming with the family after losing his leg below the knee in a work related accident. They began looking at options that used existing prosthetics and tried to fit the fin to that, but found that these were cumbersome and often left Randy, and many like him, unable to comfortably wear his prosthetic after a swim.

“We had to overcome a lot of obstacles in our design, one of the biggest being that there could be no chaffing happening while wearing the fin. Any chaffing leads to real discomfort when you put your prosthetic limb back on, and we certainly did not want to hinder the ability to get around after a swim by using our fin” explained Randy. Lori and Randy created a list of requirements that they needed to meet for their design, and “We have met every one with this design. Our swimmers can wear them all day long and take it off and be better for it”.

The two hit upon the idea of creating a swim fin that would instead fit directly onto the amputated limb. Together, Randy and Lori turned their kitchen into a makeshift chemistry lab, creating and testing the first few formulations and designs of the fins. Once they hit upon what they felt would best lead them to success, they moved the operation out of the house and into a lab that could work to custom fit each wearer. G+G Products, LLC of Kennebunk, Maine has been instrumental in the creation of the prototype molds. Together with the Lords, they are planning on increasing the sizes available to include sizes for children through adults. The Lord’s design is patent pending in the US and in other countries.

Amazingly, the design that the two created has implications far beyond what they first envisioned. It turns out, that in swimming the ankle is the “weak point” of one’s kick. According to Lord, on the backstroke of the kick an able bodied swimmer loses 80% of his or her power because the ankle cannot handle the strain of remaining straight. Without an ankle, and attached directly to the amputated limb, the AMP Fin wearer produces 100% power in both directions of the kick, propelling them with a greater speed and efficiency than able bodied swimmers.

“Finally, amputees will be able to say that they can do something better than people with legs” exclaimed Lord “They (able bodied swimmers) will have to try and keep up”.

The Lords brought their invention to Cory LaPlante, a certified Prosthetist at Northern Prosthetics & Orthotics who is himself an above knee amputee. LaPlante reported that within 30 seconds of wearing the AMP Fin in the pool he had totally forgotten that he was an amputee. Not only that, he felt muscles working that he hadn’t in years, opening the door for the fin’s use as a means of physical therapy.

On January 11th, Cory LaPlante and 8 patient volunteers will be participating in a public test trial of the patent pending AMP Fin at the University of Presque Isle between 12 and 2 pm. Each participant has been specially fitted with a glove like shell of their amputated limb which has then been glued into the fin and covered with a neoprene sleeve. Already on the guest list are Maine’s Senator Susan Collins, and representatives from Shriner’s, the Veteran’s Administration, and Warriors In The Workplace, as well as representatives from other state organizations. The public is welcome to attend to see the new design and to ask questions of the inventors and the test participants. The all Maine business plans to have fins available for the public in Spring of 2015, in time for swim season.

It is amazing that what started out as a quest for freedom to get back into the water has blossomed into so much more. The physical therapy aspect is an important addition to the mission to AMP Fin, but so is the idea of helping our veterans deal with the trauma’s they have suffered. The ability to again enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, a wave pool, or just playing in the water is not to be underestimated in its ability to offer emotional healing. I left the conversation in awe of the spirit of Randy and Lori Lord and all that they have accomplished, and hopeful for all the people who are waiting for their moment on the beach. For more information about AMP Fins, LLC please visit www.ampfins.com or email Randy and Lori with questions or to schedule a fitting at ampfins@yahoo.com.