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History of the Orbiter Treadmill


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Find out how one knee injury has changed lives of millions in home & sports cardio and total body conditioning and in orthopedic rehabilitation, sports medicine physical therapy.


My name is Clayton Lee. I am the inventor of the Orbiter Treadmill. This is the history of how the Orbiter went from a God given idea in my first day of rehab, to becoming the treadmill with the lowest impact, highest cardio, greatest energy return, and lowest electrical power use.


I am not an engineer, physician or physical therapist. And I certainly was not a fitness company executive looking to build the "next big thing" when I invented the Orbiter's radically different shock absorbing surface and suspension system. I was, and am, an ordinary man who suffered an extraordinary - near crippling injury - and decided I could help myself and others by building something better that I was told could not be built.


Physical Therapy TreadmillPrototype 1981
First Name: "Roller Bounce"


It began while I was recovering from my own severe knee injury suffered one afternoon while playing a simple game of touch football with family and friends. My whole world changed as I leaped to knock down a Peter Bean pass (I missed) and came down wrong - very wrong.


All I remember was hearing a loud cracking sound, much like a tree limb breaking, and lying helplessly as my friends crowded around me.



The bottom portion of my left leg was 'rotated' ninety degrees to the left of my knee and upper leg. It was ugly. One of my friends vomited at the site of it. All I could think of to say was, "Take me to the hospital".


Dr. Burdeaux's description of

what happened to my left knee:

1. Torn deep and superficial portion

of the tibial collateral ligament.

2. Torn postermedial capsule.

3. Torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).


A few hours after the accident, I was lying in my hospital room and in came Dr. Burdeaux. He couldn't promise I would ever be walk again. The bottom portion of my leg literally dangled from the knee. And the knee was swollen as big as a medium sized watermelon. As they wheeled me into the operating room the next morning I started bargaining first with the nurses, then with Dr. Burdeaux, telling them I wouldn't be put to sleep until they promised not to amputate my leg, no matter what. Dr. Burdeaux promised me he wouldn't amputate, even if I had zero function. I was at peace.

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.


The 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, "Clayton, you may be onto something & he probably won't believe you anyway,' so I just said, "I have no idea, doctor."


Before 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 everybody.


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:


"Don't try to 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..."


Then 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?"


I 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? 


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.


I will always be grateful to my surgeon, Dr. Burdeaux, for two things:

1. 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 treadmill.

When 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 discussing it.


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.


Dr. 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.


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.


With funding taken care of, I called my always resourceful brother, Chip, and asked,

"Do 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."

Chip 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.

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.


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, Caroline. 


Jeff's letter said,

"Dear Mr. Lee,
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.
Jeff Meredith"


Jeff 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 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.


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 to work.


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."


I 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.


When 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 Brothers.


That 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. 


Lee-Meredith 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'.


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 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.


 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. 

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