TV Documentary Portrays Partnership of College Students, Wounded Veterans and Corporate America

Michigan Tech Senior Design student works on one of the team's handcycle prototypes.
Michigan Tech Senior Design student works on one of the team's handcycle prototypes.

It started out as a senior class project.  It ended up as a passion for a team of engineering students and their unlikely partners—a group of wounded veterans. 

Now a documentary has been made about the handcycles designed and built by Michigan Technological University mechanical engineering students for the Achilles Freedom Team athletes—wounded veterans who race in marathons.  

The documentary is called The Wings of Angels, and it premieres this month on the American Heroes channel, a Discovery cable channel.  Three showings are scheduled: 

  • 9 a.m. Saturday, May 17
  • 9 a.m. Saturday May 24
  • 9 a.m. Saturday May 31

In the Michigan Tech viewing area, the documentary will air on Charter Cable channel 203; Dish Network channel 195 and Direct TV channel 287

The 50-minute documentary follows the lives of two wounded veterans who have become Achilles Freedom Team marathon handcyclists, and the teams of Michigan Tech students who designed, built, tested and refined handcycles for them.  

In 2012, when the project began, the handcycles available to the wounded veterans—many of whom have lost one or both legs—left a lot to be desired.  So General Motors—a longtime corporate partner of Michigan Tech and supporter of the military and the Achilles Freedom Team—underwrote a Senior Design project to design and build a better handcycle.  Senior Design is a capstone course in Michigan Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, in which seniors work on real-world projects for industry partners.

“GM has a long history of supporting the military and have been sponsoring the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Vets for a number of years,” explains Linda Stouffer, manager of vehicle purchase programs at GM.  “Through that relationship, we realized that the handcycles that they were using in their marathon races were inferior, and we needed to help.  It was a natural fit for our engineers to work with Michigan Tech students to help design better handcycles for these athletes.”

“Working on this project and being able to document it has been incredibly rewarding, Stouffer adds.  “It was wonderful to see the transformation of the students from this being just another assignment that was standing between them and graduation to really getting what this was all about–the altruistic facet.  Every group of students that has worked on this project caught the passion for helping these heroes.”

Teams of Michigan Tech seniors analyzed the failures of the handcycles on the market and came up with solutions to the problems.  They built two prototypes and took them to the toughest judges in the world—the wounded veteran marathon handcyclists themselves.   

Based on the veterans’ reactions and recommendations, the Michigan Tech students went back to their labs and tweaked their designs.  A prototype handcycle was wheeled out on the field at the 2012 televised Army-Navy football game, and Achilles team members rode the latest version of the handcycle in the 2013 Detroit Marathon.

Several Senior Design teams have worked on the handcycle so far, and another round of refinements will be developed by next fall’s seniors at Michigan Tech. 

"It’s a beautiful thing to see young minds connect with the sacrifices our Freedom Team members have made for this country,” says Janet Patton, director of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans. “We are grateful that GM has provided an opportunity to these students to put their efforts to a worthwhile project for the athletes we serve."

As one of the Achilles marathoners puts it in the documentary, “these students are amazing. They really care about helping us run with our hands.”


General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM’s brands include Chevrolet and Cadillac, as well as Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at

The Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans was founded in 2004 by Achilles International as a rehabilitation program that trains and sponsors recently wounded servicemen to participate mainstream races across the nation. For more information, please visit our website or find us on Facebook at Achilles International.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.