Vail biomechanical engineer Sarah Wilson featured on CBS show for young teens, ‘Mission Unstoppable’
With a CBS production crew all pointing cameras at her, Sarah Wilson didn’t think that her career in engineering at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute would mean she’d be on national television.
But then she remembered that she’s in a familiar habitat: the climbing gym. Her work was featured in “Mission Unstoppable,” a CBS show hosted by Miranda Cosgrove (“Drake & Josh,” “iCarly”). Produced for 13-16-year-olds, the show highlights cutting-edge science and the women who work in those STEM fields.
When the CBS crew pulled up to Eagle Climbing + Fitness to shoot the segment, Wilson worked with show correspondent Erica Hernandez, explaining the technology she uses in the biomotion lab at SPRI.
“We use a wide variety of technologies to measure how people move,” she said.
She attached electromyography sensors to Erica’s biceps and other muscles that see lots of activity while climbing. The sensors read electric signals sent from the brain to each muscle and register real-time data on a computer. By reading graphs during and after Hernandez’ ascent up the wall, Wilson can determine how hard muscles are working, and if they are injured or vulnerable to injury.
“It was cool to see such a high-caliber show like ‘Mission Unstoppable’ come to Vail,” Wilson said.
The segment aired on April 11, 2020, but “Mission Unstoppable” is only one way that Wilson is using her expertise technology and biomedical engineering to address injury prevention in sports.
Wilson is currently an IF/THEN ambassador, which selects 125 leading women in STEM fields to empower others and inspire the next generation of innovators in STEM and intersections with other industries like fashion, entertainment, sports, business and academia. IF/THEN is how CBS found and contacted Wilson for her segment on “Mission Unstoppable.”
“The ambassador program is absolutely phenomenal. It’s an insanely diverse group of women,” Wilson said.
IF/THEN, run by Lyda Hill Philanthropies, has partnered with Litton Entertainment, which produces “Mission Unstoppable,” for the #StaySafeForScience social media campaign raising youth awareness and engagement with COVID-19 pandemic public health measures. Wilson is participating, and for every tweet or Instagram filter shared using the hashtag, Lyda Hill Philanthropies will donate $1 up to $250,000 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Wilson was also a competitive skier for years, competing in big-mountain freeride events. Many of her friends and competitors faced some sort of injury in their careers. Injury risk was why she decided to cut her own competition career short. She’d been interested in science since a young age, so she went to grad school for mechanical engineering.
“If I had seen more people, and more women in particular, performing at a high level without injury being part of their story, I might have chosen to pursue that a little bit farther,” she said.
She’s seen a pattern of people getting injured in their teens and twenties and having to live with that injury and related health problems for the rest of their life. She believes that it’s important to be able to lead an active life at any age, and a past injury shouldn’t hinder that ability. That’s something she’s working on at SPRI, which has seven ongoing research projects working to find solutions to these problems.
And as a female who’s spent a lot of time in male-dominated fields — competitive skiing and STEM research — Wilson also hopes her work can help create better experiences for women and increase gender equity. She said women have much higher rates of ACL injury and other knee issues.
“To be a woman at the intersection of (two male-dominated fields) gives me an opportunity to focus on those problems that others in those areas wouldn’t necessarily think about,” she said.
While Wilson’s work at SPRI focuses on injury and reinjury in all types of sports — thanks to the abundance of athletics in the valley, she’s never short on data to sample — her interest in gender equity motivates her to empower others.
To young girls, she offers this advice.
For future competitive skiers: “This is where I saw a lot more people telling me that I couldn’t do it. I felt like I had to prove myself, that I had to keep up with boys. You don’t have to be like the competition to be better than the competition. Do what feels right to you, not what all the people you’re training with are doing. You’re going to ski it better if you’re having fun.”
For future STEM innovators: “Look at the things that you’re already passionate about. For me it was skiing, for others it might be fashion or music or animals. Whatever it is that you’re interested in, there’s a science field behind it. Being excited about the application is going to get you a long way both in terms of sanity wise – being passionate about what you’re doing is so critical.”