In the Running: Engineering students create jogger so disabled girl can run marathons with her father

Mechanical engineering senior project students present a new jogger to Katie Robionson
Mechanical engineering students present a new jogger to Katie Robionson of Fresno.

While the Katie’s Jogger team had prepared for this moment, they admit to being a little nervous.

After spending nine months working on a jogger specifically designed for Katie Robinson, a disabled 17- year-old Fresno girl, the team of Cal Poly engineering students is now waiting for Katie to see their final product.

“This is the first time she’ll sit in the jogger after it’s fully built,” says Kathryn Mangiaracina, one of the students on the team.

Katie can’t walk or stand. But she wants to accompany her father, Edward Robinson, on half marathons.

“She’s been asking for years – ‘Dad, can I run with you?’” Edward said. “She’s been at the finish line at some of my races.”

While there are companies that make joggers for adults with disabilities, they don’t work for Katie, who is too big for a child’s jogger and too small for an adult’s, her father said. So, after reading about a similar project students created for a different disabled teen, he reached out to the Mechanical Engineering Department. Edward, a middle school vice principal, later presented his senior project challenge to students in a video. Four students took on the challenge — Mangiaracina, Megan Guillermo Abdullah Sulaiman, and Erin Wint – which was sponsored by Break the Barriers, which promotes fitness for those with disabilities.

On the last day of finals for the fall quarter, the team waited in anticipation for the Robinsons to arrive from Fresno. And, as Katie’s parents wheeled her toward the Quality of Life Plus lab, the students prepared the jogger for the special reveal.

“We’ve practiced this,” Wint said.

Then, with Katie waiting outside, they wheeled out the jogger, which features purple aluminum tubing and custom-made upholstery.

“Wow – it’s amazing,” Edward said. “Look at that, Katie!”

“What do you think?” Katie’s mother, Laurie, asked her daughter as she recorded video with her phone.

Katie offered a thumb’s up before becoming emotional, clinging to her mother with a hard embrace.

“This is when she gets overwhelmed with joy,” her father explained.

Later, Edward Robinson transferred Katie to the jogger and took a walk around the engineering plaza.

“It felt great,” Edward said. “It kind of glides.”

Katie has limited speech, but a few minutes after her initial test run, she asked: “Daddy, you wanna try one more time?”

After a quicker stroll through the plaza, the Robinsons eventually loaded the jogger into their van and departed.

For the students, it was an especially rewarding experience.

“None of us have built anything of this magnitude before,” said Guillermo, who was on campus one final day before graduating.

The students were especially interested in this project because it would improve someone’s quality of life. And after months of designs, prototypes and construction, the ultimate grade was Katie’s reaction.

“I feel like I’m a better engineer because this this project,” Mangiaracina said.