Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa Helped Rehab Injured Ankle with Trazer

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After Alabama’s star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, suffered a high-ankle sprain in the SEC Championship on Dec. 1, he underwent an innovative surgical procedure and began intensive rehab. Among the assessment tools the university’s athletic training staff used was Trazer, an optical tracking system that monitors 25 points on the human body to quantify acceleration, deceleration, symmetrical movements, reaction times, and more.

In an ESPN feature on his return to play, Tagovailoa can be seen in front of a 90-inch flat screen, shuffling laterally in response to prompts from Trazer’s on-screen simulation. Tagovailoa returned to play four weeks after his injury, completing 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns to lead Bama to the College Football Playoff title game on Monday night against Clemson, which also became a Trazer client prior to this season.

Trazer quantifies dynamic movement and, when evaluating rehabbing athletes, pays close attention to reaction time and change of direction on the injured side, said the company’s CEO, Barry French Jr. He says sports medicine experts have told him that an athlete’s ability to brake is most indicative of recovery.

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“It’s all about your ability to stop, to decelerate, and then to change direction off that leg you’re decelerating on,” French said.

That the national championship game between two Trazer clients is airing on Disney-owned ESPN is a karmic coincidence for the tech company, whose earliest high-profile installation was at Disney World’s Epcot Center.

French’s father has been developing biomedical technologies for 40 years. While most have been licensed to medical companies, the family retained the intellectual property on Trazer, named as an amalgamation of “tracking laser.” He developed the idea to get children off the couch and moving in response to the increasingly sedentary gaming generation.

The early Trazer product was deemed the “Future of Fitness” at Tomorrowland. French Sr. also appeared on Oprah alongside the surgeon general to tout the technology as well as cameos on Katie Couric’s show and ESPN’s Outside the Lines. The idea, however, was years ahead of commercial viability. (French Sr. remains the company’s chief innovations officer while his older son runs the business.) The original sensors were the size of a sedan, rendering them too costly and unwieldy for sales.

“It got massive exposure, but it cost us $50,000—literally—to hand-build these Volkswagen Trazers,” French Jr. said, before noting the helpful iterations of technology. “Now, it’s gone from a 250-pound tube TV and a Trazer the size of a Volkswagen to a Trazer that’s four and a half pounds using a high-powered optical camera.”

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Trazer is in its sixth generation, called the T6, which French described as the company’s first “commercially viable” version. The technology has evolved so that Trazer can identify and isolate limb movements and not just the central core, helping create more actionable data.

The T6 currently operates through Microsoft’s Kinect 2, although French said the proprietary software is essentially hardware-agnostic and likely will migrate to a new device soon. While Alabama has a permanent installation on a wall in its training room, Clemson placed the device on a wheeled cart with a 55-inch TV for mobile use. French added that Arizona, Georgia, LSU, and Michigan State were among the other college athletic programs to use Trazer, noting that several NFL, NBA, and MLS franchises have expressed interest.

Alabama’s introduction to Trazer was serendipitous, although perhaps also a case of the Crimson Tide creating its own luck. While in Miami for the BCS title game in January 2013—in which Alabama blew out Notre Dame, 42-14—the Tide stayed at the Fontainebleau, which has a Trazer installed (where it’s been used by celebrities such as Flo Rida). As French tells the story, legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban saw the unit at the hotel and directed his director of sports medicine, Jeff Allen, to call and order one the next day. (Allen now sits on Trazer’s advisory board.)

At its core, Trazer remains a physical diagnostic tool, but the platform introduces elements linking the body and mind, too.

“You see the environment, have to process information cognitively, and then you have to move from a motor standpoint,” French said. “We look at, is there a break in the chain in your ability to do so and react to these unplanned stimuluses that we put into the virtual environment? So it’s a very different type of reaction time, but we think it’s a much more sport-specific reaction time than a sedentary neuro-cognitive test.”

Read more: sporttechie.com

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