The Power of Innovation — From Learning to Walk Again to Climbing Mountains

At age 13, Sarah Doherty was struck by a drunk driver, losing her leg at the scene of the accident.

Years later, she became the first woman amputee to climb Mount Rainer and Denali.

Between those two seminal events in her life, Sarah had to learn a lot about innovation and the bravery it takes to defy convention en route to creating the kinds of support systems she’d need to live how she wanted.

After her accident, Sarah knew she had to return to the fit and active lifestyle she’d led. But the problem was not her drive – it was the primitive forearm crutches she was given.

So from an early age she began to look at their purpose differently, modifying them along the way. That drive and those modifications got her to the top of many peaks.

“It just empowered me; it made me realize that dreaming big and being innovative can help you be more than who you thought you could be,” she said.

But she was always just dabbling in innovation. Many of her ideas were just that. She was innovating, but only for herself. After her marriage fell apart, Sarah began to look inward, searching for something “that was me.”

She returned back to design and innovation. A year and a half into the process, she meet engineer Kerith Perreur-Lloyd. They started talking about the outdoors, then innovation, then each other.

Soon the two married and started SideStix, a company that specializes in adaptive walking equipment, specifically forearm crutches with a shock absorbing system.

En route to designing the products the company offers today, Sarah and Kerith adapted quickly to learning from failure. Oftentimes prototypes broke, as one did during a 2009 summit attempt of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“So there you are at close to 20,000 feet with broken equipment and it forces you to really look at life a little differently,” Kerith said.

But in every field test, Sarah said she faces those fears – from owning a company to personally testing the product – directly. While it’s frightening, it’s also exciting, exhilarating and “the way I feel I live fully.”

The need for innovation is clear in SideStix’s story, but Sarah and Kerith contend that the theme is relevant and necessary in those peoples’ lives who may not have an obvious physical need to innovate.

Kerith said it’s crucial for everyone to take the time to step back, examine how you’re living and start to ask critical questions. In this day and age, it’s all too easy to just “make due,” he said.

“Once you start thinking about it and not treating it as a black box — you don’t know how it works, what goes into it, what makes it what it is — but it is something you have to use,” he said. “Well, open up the black box. Let’s dissect it, figure out what we can do to make it better.”

Listen to No Barriers’ full conversation about the power of innovation with Sarah and Kerith below.