CEDARVILLE—Mallory Waayenberg is a bubbly, witty, and determined junior at Cedarville University.
“I'm already self-conscious coming in and then having a disability makes me more self-conscious and anxious," said Waayenberg.
Mallory was born without part of her arm, but that has never stopped her running for everything she's wanted in life.
But a mandatory college gym class made her feel limited.
"It was really hard to get a good workout when you can't use the machines," said Waayenberg.
While there are prosthetic arms and hands for almost everything, options for recreational weightlifting were really limited and could mean she'd have to bolt herself to each machine.
So, she pitched her idea to Tim Norman, the mechanical and biomedical engineering professor.
"And I said, hey this is the problem, there aren't any prosthetics like this, could a team build me one?" said Waayenberg.
"All the machines are designed for symmetric motion, you know, working both shoulders, both arms,” said Norman. “We had to start with really nothing. All the machines require a motion of the wrist, and so that really was the part that we had to bring to things that we really hadn't seen before."
She jokes that her team of senior engineers looks more like body guards in uniformed polos following her around.
"It was actually really surprising to see just how capable she is and what she could do," said Austin Land, senior mechanical engineering senior.
Austin Land was tasked with challenge of developing her wrist.
"You have every kind of motion you need with an actual human wrist," said Land.
"I like this spring a lot better, it moves more naturally," said Waayenberg.
The rest of the team worked on creating three different hands.
"We wanted to give her the most amount of options since she didn't have any to really start with," said Tyler Vandermolen, senior mechanical engineering senior.
Not only did they have to keep tweaking their designs, but they too had to learn how to do these workouts.
"It was a lot of late nights at the gym, ironically," said Vandermolen.
Now more than a year since they were tasked with building an arm, and putting hundreds of hours in, “Muscle Mallory” is strapped in and ready to lift.
"It is one of the best accomplishments I could possibly even imagine, “said Vandermolen.
“To be able to help an individual and do something that’s truly productive and not just an educational exercise," said Richie Mathias, senior mechanical engineering senior.
It's rewarding even for the professor, whose daughter was born without part of her leg, but is now a Paralympian.
"There's a lot of joy because I know how much of a benefit an assisted device like that can mean to somebody's life,” said Norman. “I think for Mallory it could be life changing."
"My disability is not a disability. It just means I do things differently," said Waayenberg.