THE ORBITER WAS BORN
Dr. Burdeaux performed a remarkable reconstruction of my mangled knee.
Six months later I tried to walk for the first time since the injury.
The pain was intense and I felt like I was going to hurt it again if I
took another step. When I told the physical therapist that it was too
painful to walk on the hard surface, and could I please walk on a
softer flexible surface until I was better, she laughed and said there
was no such thing! I knew better. I knew there was a better way to
rehabilitate my knee than having to experience such pain, so I went
home and thought about it. A few weeks later I figured out a way to
partially simulate my newly invented surface by 'rolling' against the
clutch on my girlfriend Julie's old Volvo. The second time I tried it
my knee made a cracking sound that sounded bad, but felt good. I tried
it again and it felt even better! When I got out of the car I seemed to
have better movement. I was very excited.
following day my therapist and my doctor at The University of Texas
medical center were dumbfounded. They compared my range of motion from
the previous therapy session and could not believe their eyes. At first
the doctor told the nurse that she must have incorrectly recorded my
progress from the previous session. But when she showed him the numbers
from my other sessions that corresponded closely to the last one, he
asked me if I had done anything that might have caused this unusual
amount of recovery. He told me I had made about three weeks progress in
two days. He wanted to know what had happened. I thought to myself,
you may be onto something & he probably won't believe you anyway,' so
I just said, "I have no idea, doctor."
the doctor left, he told me and nurse that he'd never seen adhesions
break and range of motion return that quickly. That affirmation started
me on my quest to bring a safer and more comfortable experience to
recovering orthopedic patients, and a better way to walk and run for
CAN'T BE BUILT" - THAT'S WHAT THE SO CALLED EXPERTS TOLD ME
I struggled with finding engineers who would work on this machine with
me. I can't remember how many confidentially agreements I had signed by
top engineers who all told me just about the same thing:
build it. The forces involved are similar to a tight rope walker at the
circus. When the performers are at the middle of the tight rope they
exert tremendous pressures on the supporting scaffolds. That's OK
because the scaffolds are stationery. But you are trying to make this
surface move, and any type of chain or roller you design will be
fighting this basic problem of opposing forces..."
they'd throw this one in as I was leaving: "...And, Clayton, have
you ever actually walked, much less run, across the surface of a
trampoline? This doesn't seem like something people would want to do .
For those of you who have something
you want to do - that you feel you must do - that is of honorable
intent and feeds your imagination with possibility - that others
consider unreasonable - go ahead and do it. Most inventive, artistic,
scientific and new business endeavors are first judged unworthy by
peers, family and well meaning friends. If you know someone who is
struggling with the pursuit of something they believe important - be
open and encouraging. They just might be onto something special. Create
it, invent it. I believe we all have inventing inside us. Let the
inventor in you invent. Ideas are not accidents. I believe they are
given to us and are meant to be acted upon.
I've told people that the hardest
part of building Orbiter, 'the machine that couldn't be built',
was the battle I had in my own mind. Who was I to question these
licensed mechanical engineers, college professors (one was a dean) and
other experts who told me to just 'forget it', and get on with my life?
I'd get real down and block the whole thing from my mind for a couple
of days. But I couldn't forget the pain I'd experienced in physical
therapy, and the pain of my fellow patients as they cried out for
relief that never seemed to come. The oldest patients had it the worst.
I kept thinking, "If
it's this hard and this painful for me, in my twenties, what's it like
for the patients in their sixties and older?"
felt I had to do something for myself and for them, but I needed help.
I needed to know if I was on the right track. I prayed for guidance and
assurance that what I was doing was right. Was what was once described
as 'Clayton's obsession' really in the best interest of these
patients? Could I, with no background or experience in medicine or
physical therapy or engineering build a surface that would make rehab
kinder experience? A surface that would benefit persons after their
recovery? A surface to benefit those who have never been injured?
ANSWERED MY PRAYERS - ALWAYS
Sometimes within minutes and almost
always within twenty four hours, my spoken and often written prayers,
were answered. Sometimes the answers came in the form of a design
breakthrough, meeting someone, a phone call, letter, or in other ways.
The answers told me I was doing the right thing, and to continue. I
feel God decreed and blessed the Orbiter treadmill.
EXPERT WAS RIGHT
I will always be grateful to my
surgeon, Dr. Burdeaux, for two things:
The great reconstruction he performed on my knee. (and)
2. The time he took to meet with me and discuss my ideas for a better
I phoned Dr. Burdeaux and told him I had an idea for a machine that
could improve orthopedic rehabilitation, I didn't know how he would
respond. He was intrigued and asked me to come by after he finished
seeing patients. At the time, all I knew about Dr. Burdeaux was that he
had performed a beautiful reconstruction on my nearly destroyed knee. I
did not know that Dr. Burdeaux was a respected researcher and a past
president of the Texas Association of Orthopedic Surgeons. We met and I
told him about my concept. He was excited and we spent an hour or so
ANGEL OF A DOCTOR ENCOURAGES ME
What impressed me was the degree
of concern that Dr. Burdeaux showed
for all orthopedic patients, not just the ones he saw in his practice,
and his belief that this idea of mine could benefit millions of people
in pain, and for that matter, anyone who walks, jogs or runs for
exercise. He explained that many individuals are forced to live with
various conditions that make walking, jogging and running too painful
to endure. He said my idea would help them too.
Burdeaux encouraged me to build the machine, and he continued to
encourage me through the years it took to develop it, and especially in
times when I felt like quitting. He was certain that I could, and that
I should produce this treadmill that would be like no other - with a
surface so comfortable that some who try it - at first wonder if pain
shouldn't be a necessary part of exercise. That to remove the pain, the
sore joints, is somehow wrong, or even bad for us. Finally, in a world
full of hype, there is one product that stands tall - casting a long
shadow over all its would be competitors.
REASON WHY I'LL ALWAYS LOVE MY FIRST MOTHER IN LAW
Like a lot of people in Houston, the
oil crunch in the early 1980s left its mark on me. That, combined with
some personal problems I was experiencing at the time, left me
wondering where I would get the money to build my idea. I thought
Julie's mom, my mother in law, had to be the greatest mother in law in
the world. I admired, respected and loved Sue Ann from the moment we
met back in the late 1960's, when Julie and I first met at Lamar High
School. When Sue Ann offered to fund the building of a prototype, I
couldn't have been happier. I lot of men joke and complain about their
mother in laws. I guess I've been lucky as both of mine have been kind
and intelligent women.
Sue Ann Reagan died Friday, June 20, 2003. I miss you.
BROTHER FINDS MY FIRST ENGINEER
With funding taken care of, I called my always resourceful brother,
Chip, and asked,
you know any engineers? I need an unconventional mechanical engineer.
Somebody who won't think I'm crazy and will help me build this thing."
called back a few days later and gave me the name & telephone
number of Larry Weigand. This first engineer type to assist me was an
intelligent, personable and unconventional thinking designer. His
evenings were open and his family was very accommodating in allowing us
to build the first three models in their garage. Together we produced
the first working Orbiter prototype (that I named Rollerbounce). It was
pretty primal, but it proved that the so called 'experts' were wrong.
When I ran on it that first time I knew I had been justified in
building this controversial machine.
THE EXPERTS WERE WRONG
What the experts didn't count on was the critical difference between
walking or running across a stationary trampoline, versus walking or
running on a moving suspended surface. On a trampoline the bounce comes
right back at you. On my Rollerbounce (which I renamed Orbiter in
1988), the 'bounce' disappears behind you, and reappears only as a
gentle energy return, helping you to lift your rear leg as you begin
your next stride. Safe, natural and oh so good.
LEAVES AND JEFF ARRIVES
Larry and his family made a decision to drop out of the project so I
was once again searching for an engineer who could help transform my
ideas into three dimensional form. While I was involved with producing
a great little rock band named Peristyle, the band's lead singer and
songwriter, Stewart Meredith, introduced me to his younger brother
Jeff. I didn't think much of the introduction until seven or eight
months later when I received a short letter from Jeff. I was living in
Irvine, California at the time with my wife Julie and infant daughter,
My brother told me that you are interested in inventions. I too am
interested in these types of things. He told me your treadmill
invention is being stored at Rivendel Recording Studios. If you ever
come back to Houston, I would like to work on it with you.
was barely out of John Foster Dulles High School, didn't have a great
deal of drafting experience, but we got along and most important - Jeff
was smart and he admired the machine's concept and thought its future
was bright. Jeff and I produced an improved prototype, made a video
with a great looking girl named Kane running on it, added one of
Stuart's songs - 'Emerald Skies' - as background music, and started
showing the video to prospective investors.
Jimmy Hotz, who introduced me to Stewart Meredith and Peristyle
and co-produced and engineered some of Peristyle's music with me. Want
to see JimmyHotz.com Guitar Hero like invention? It is a quantum
leap above the toys currently on the
market. If you are or want to be a serious musician, I
urge you to contact Jimmy Hotz.
WOULDN'T LET HIM INVEST
One Sunday Jeff and I went over to the Houston River Oaks home of a man
who wanted to provide one hundred to two hundred thousand dollars of
initial capital. My business plan required two million dollars and this
seemed like an excellent start. This was to be our final meeting prior
to his funding our new company. The meeting did not go well for me. I
just didn't trust the man, and that's not the way to start a business,
or any other kind of relationship. As Jeff and I were leaving I just
told him we'd get back to him later to discuss the amount of his
investment. As we drove away I looked at Jeff and said,"I don't feel comfortable with this man. I don't
want his money. Let's find somebody else, somebody we can trust."
It was especially disappointing since
we had been talking for a couple of months and had thought it was going
At the time I was broker with Shearson Lehman Brothers. Monday followed
that Sunday meeting the and when I walked in the look on my face told
my office mate, that something was up. Former Exxon chemical engineer
Bill Walstead, took one look at me and asked, "Clayton,
what's wrong? You're always in such a good mood. You seem down today."
really liked Bill. He was and is always so 'up' about just about
everything that he almost seems surreal at times. I had taken to
inviting Bill to come along to these potential investor meetings, and
had asked Bill's opinion about a certain clause in the contract
proposed by the investor I had turned down. Bill had even brought his
wife Lois to one of these meetings and I liked her a lot too.
I told Bill about the Sunday meeting and my decision to look
elsewhere for capital, he he shocked me by saying he would provide the
funding to get the company started. We went in for our morning sales
meeting and afterward I tendered my resignation to Shearson Lehman
was in the summer of 1987. My long time attorney friend Knox Hughes was
actually the first to fund my new company, but Bill Walstead provided
the major capital to open the doors, order parts and begin operations.
Bill's long time friend, mechanical engineer Jim Carnes, worked with me
and Jeff and was instrumental in building and refining our initial
prototypes and ideas. We began selling production units in 1989. Our
first customer was the Miami Dolphins. I believe they still have that
same unit in their facilities today.
Industries, Inc., d.b.a. ORBITER, was founded in 1987 for the purpose
of manufacturing and marketing my 'treadmill with trampoline like
surface' invention. Today, the Orbiter's patented combination of
trampoline-like comfort and treadmill stability is regarded by those
who know - as the 'world's most comfortable treadmill'.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, WHO
Shortly after I hurt my knee, I became restless and resentful about not
being able to walk. I was afraid I might never walk or run again, and
if I did it would probably be with a severe limp. Then one evening
around dusk as I lay staring out my hospital window, watching the
sunset - something happened. I felt as if my mind and soul had been
pried open and a cool breeze was being piped through me. I felt God's
presence and I heard Him speaking to me:
"Relax. Be patient.
Something good will come of this."
And a few months later it began. The
first moment I placed my foot on that floor in physical therapy I
pulled it back and knew, absolutely knew what my new treadmill was and
what it could be and do for people. Almost immediately I felt it was my
personal responsibility to invent, develop and make this machine
available to the world. And that is what I have done ever since.
From professional athletes in perfect health, to orthopedic patients
recovering from injury or surgery like myself, from the U.S. Military
to NASA's Astronaut training and rehabilitation programs, from royalty
to everyday people, I believe the Orbiter's unique wonderful surface is
a gift to all of us, from the Creator of all there is. I am so grateful
to have been so privileged to have been given the responsibility to
help bring Orbiter treadmills to people who need and want them.
Orbiter is a gift. I run on my Orbiter treadmill nearly every day, and
I know that without it my running days would be over by now. And like
many, I love to run, walk, jog - what a wonderful feeling. It is an
honor to produce this machine that is now loved by so many. It is a
blessing to have worked with people who believed in my ideas and whose
own talents and ideas have blossomed along the way. I am grateful for
the support of my Mom, my Dad and my brother Chip during this journey.
My inspiring wife Donna Sue, and my wonderful daughter Caroline. And to
Jim Walstead, Bill & Lois' son, our Production Manager at Orbiter
and a good friend to so many. We miss you and we will never forget you.
Lois Walstead was reunited with
son Jim a few years ago. We all grieve her loss, especially for husband
Bill and family, but at the same time we celebrate this woman who gave
so much to so many. After Jim's death, Lois and Bill became
actively involved helping others through The Compassionate
Friends http://www.compassionatefriends.org chapter in
Baytown, Texas. Lois loved life, loved her family, and she loved
God, spreading the
Good News of Jesus Christ whenever and wherever she could. We miss
you Lois, and we'll never forget your spirit, caring and love.
The Orbiter Treadmill is dedicated to those who are healthy and for
those who want to get healthy, for those who want to lose weight, to
strive to do and get in better shape, for those with conditions of pain
and discomfort that steal joy from their lives.
To be a part of your
solution, part of your joy - I thank you.
To those I know, and those I
will never have the honor to meet, I thank you.
God for trusting me to work Orbiter in your name. Praise God, the One Source of All.
God Bless all the
people who Orbiter has replaced pain with joy, to those Orbiter has
helped, and those it will help.