Leon Fainstein was one among many Canadians this past summer who were following the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
Fainstein however had a particular focus on the exploits of three-time Canadian para-triathlete Chantal Givens, who made her Paralympic debut in Rio. That’s because Fainstein had a personal stake in her success.
Givens was born without her left hand. Fainstein, a mechanical engineering teacher at Red River College in Winnipeg, was tasked with designing and manufacturing an adaptive device, using a 3D printer, that allowed the athlete to get a good grip on her left handlebar with her wrist to help with her control when going up and down hills.
“While I was confident that the piece was strong enough, as an engineer, you always worry that something might go wrong and she would fall off her bike and be injured,” Fainstein said. “I am happy to say that Chantal did very well [she finished in eighth place]in the para-triathlon competition [which involves cycling, swimming and running].”
Fainstein has followed a career path that has been a little different than the norm in the North American Jewish world (although three of his colleagues teaching mechanical engineering at Red River are also Jewish, he notes). He originally enrolled at Red River College in 1978 with the goal of becoming a carpenter.
“Carpentry was full, so I switched to welding,” he said. “I became fascinated with metal fabrication. After graduation, I worked in a tool-and-die shop for a couple of years, then went to university and earned a degree in mechanical engineering.”
Fainstein worked in the aviation industry for 10 years before joining the faculty at Red River College.
His connection with Givens came about through his own passion for cycling. An individual whom Fainstein frequently rides with is a Givens corporate sponsor who knew that the athlete was looking for an adaptive device for her bike handlebar.
“We have been using 3D printers at the college for 15 years,” Fainstein said. “The printers enable us to build parts without having to use tooling.”
Fainstein began working on the handlebar part for Givens about a year ago.
“The college was very generous about allowing me to devote work time to the project,” he said. “I also spent a lot of time on it on my own time.
“We came up with 17 different designs. We created the final product just three weeks before she left for the competition.”
Fainstein was impressed by the large amount of time, effort and support that goes into training a world-class athlete.
“She had separate coaches for swimming, running and cycling,” he said. “And Manitoba Sport has the most up-to-date equipment for monitoring and testing athletes.
“It’s a huge operation. Our role in Chantal’s success was relatively small, but we were glad that we were able to help.”
His current project is working with his students to design, build, test and drive an ultra-energy-efficient car to enter in the annual Shell Eco-Marathon in Detroit.