Opinion: Local Paralympic athlete excels with tech innovations, thanks to oil and gas industry


As the 2018 Winter Olympic Games are upon us, I’d like to congratulate Taos-born Danelle Umstead, a Paralympic alpine skier and all of the other athletes that have worked extremely hard to get where there are today. Representing your nation in the Olympics is an honor that I can relate to having served my country as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

As a Paralympic athlete, Danelle’s visual impairment has forced her to constantly innovate the way she pursues her next skill set in ways few athletes can. You could say that Danelle’s disadvantage serves as her advantage to refining her craft.

Many aspects of Olympic-level competition have taken remarkable strides since the first Winter Olympics in 1924, and this year, all eyes are on the technology and innovation surrounding the games as never before.

For instance, the world will soon see the results of an innovative collaboration between sports apparel manufacturer, Under Armor, and U.S. defense contractor, Lockheed Martin. This joint effort has produced sleek, aerodynamic uniforms that will be worn by U.S. speed skaters.

Downhill skiing will see its share of technological advances through the Giro Avance multi-directional impact protection (MIP) helmet, newly designed to resist rotation during impact and to suffer less drag from brushes with slalom gates.

With her husband as her professional guide, Danelle’s “vision” down the slopes comes from Bluetooth headsets that are connected to each of their helmets. Her husband, Rob, is able to voice to Danelle what is coming up next down the hill. If the battery on the headset dies, practice for the pair is done for the day.

From speed, to efficiency, to safety, today’s Olympic athletes are surrounded by innovation that empowers them to achieve greatness.

What may be little known, however, is that each of these new technologies is highly dependent on the powerful innovations in manufacturing that have been ushered in by a renaissance in the American energy industry, specifically natural gas and oil.

The manufacturing processes of the plastics, textiles, ceramics and other tech-related fibers used widely in the Olympic games, and daily in every American household and business, are possible through the use of natural gas processes.

Imagine the future of athletic performance, technology and medicine if these advancements are allowed to continue.

Now on the other side of the coin, imagine all that would not be possible without the innovative technologies directly attributed to natural gas and oil-powered manufacturing. To do that, you’d have to go back to the start of the Olympics in ancient Greece.

The point is that oil and natural gas are an integral part of the power and manufacturing capabilities of modern life.

Every contemporary luxury we enjoy, such as cell phones, tablets, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and workout equipment have their manufacturing roots in this form of energy.

That’s why it’s completely undeniable that natural gas and oil are not ancient, premodern forms of energy. They are in fact shaping the future.

Natural gas and oil and their innovations to energy science, manufacturing, daily life and, yes, even the Olympic Games, are an integral part of our energy landscape.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said, “What better time than the beginning of an Olympic year to remind ourselves that sport is always about the joy of life and confidence in the future.”

I agree and believe that we can continue to face the future with confidence as innovations in energy, and other technologies, continue to support the performance of our world’s greatest athletes.

Michael Tachias lives in Albuquerque.