Monday, February 05, 2007

Inventor's weakened legs leads to water therapy invention

The Associated Press - Sunday, February 04, 2007

Doug Johnson's sports-weakened legs, knees and ankles lead him to invent an aquatic exercise and therapy device that's now marketed around the world.

Johnson took up swimming about six years ago to help strengthen his legs. One day he donned a pair of plastic hand paddles while swimming and was amazed by the buoyancy and resistance they provided.

The impromptu experiment eventually led to him inventing the Burdenko Water Walker, marketed by his Fargo-based company, Aquatic Fitness Products.

Using a few pieces of scrap wood, several hinges and a pair of sandals, Johnson in 2001 created a crude prototype to be worn while doing in-pool walking exercises.

The following year, while awaiting patent approval, he began producing the 2 1/2-pound plastic Water Walker at Minot-based Terhorst Manufacturing.

Johnson marketed the product at aquatic trade shows and by phone.

"I was just calling around to aquatic companies and catalog dealers, building the foundation piece by piece," he said.

A trade show source suggested that Johnson contact Igor N. Burdenko, founder of the Burdenko Water and Sports Therapy Institute in Bedford, Mass.

They met in Boston and formed a mutual contract that allowed Johnson to use Burdenko's name on the product. "He's kind of a consultant," Johnson said.

"I fell in love with it," Burdenko said.

"I pioneered water therapy in the former Soviet Union and United States," Burdenko said. "When I came to the United States, I didn't find anything for rehabilitation conditioning and training in swimming pools."

The Burdenko Water Walker works by using hinged flaps plane out during downward leg motion producing increased water density and resistance. The Water Walker de-planes on the upward stroke, reducing density and resistance.

"It gives you an incredible workout," said Burdenko, whose clients include professional athletes, dancers and figure skaters.

Burdenko has designed 22 exercises to help strengthen and tone muscles, improve balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, speed and strength.

In September, he introduced the Burdenko Water Walker to therapists working with injured soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The injured included young men and women with limb paralysis and upper- and lower-body range-of-motion limitation. Many were Iraq war amputees, Burdenko said.

The device has been used to help multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease patients, and people with hip replacements and spinal chord injuries, he said.

The Burdenko Water Walker is being used by aquatic trainers in Japan, Brazil, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany, Canada and the U.S., Johnson said. They are being used by "countless" fitness clubs across the country and are available in about 20 different catalogs, Johnson said.

The aquatic products market is flooded with fitness items worn on hands, said Kevin Weaver, director of marketing for Burdenko Water Walker.

"There's not much on the market to put on your feet," Weaver said.