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It is a universal fact that dogs are man’s best friend, but there are times when cats can do a better job, like purring to make your brain feel lighter. The story of Sophia the bionic cat starts with army veteran Karolyn Smith who had a difficult time transitioning from her service. Both Sophia and Karolyn were disabled and chose each other as they keep moving forward with their lives. Just like Karolyn’s life was saved by technology, she wanted to do the same to Sophia who was found with her umbilical cord tied to her paw. The vets had to amputate the leg. With the help of 3D printing, Karolyn gave her a second chance in life with her prosthetic leg that shed more light to 3D printing innovation. Karolyn shares her inspiring story and how she didn’t let her lack of experience and lack of technology stop her from being an entrepreneur.
We are bringing to you a pretty different episode. Every so often, we hear fabulous personal journey stories about a touch of 3D printing like getting into 3D printing and all of that. When I heard this story, it’s way, way, way beyond just the 3D printing. 3D printing is just a minor footnote on the overall story, but it’s an important part of this guest’s journey and it is quite a good relevant story. She reached out to me because I wrote an Inc. article about a friend of hers, Nick Ripplinger who’s a friend of ours as well. Nick has created this company called Battle Sight Technologies in which they’re taking great government innovation and using it to help service members, help the military, help active duty, as well as help veterans. It’s really a great story of veterans helping active duty and really furthering innovation. Karolyn reached out to me and said, “I’m a friend of Nick’s. I love what you wrote about him. Here’s who I am.” When she shared her information with me, I was like, “We got to bring her on the show because this is something you have to hear in person.” She is an amazing veteran. She has a tremendous push in the innovation that happened to her in her recovery and transition home. She’s an Army veteran. She’s an entrepreneur. She’s an author of a book called Sophia the Bionic Cat, which is our 3D print tie-in. She’s a public speaker who must bring the audience to tears every time. It’s really quite a story. I hope you enjoy this story. There’s quite a bit of her background before we get to the 3D print portion but it’s well worth hanging in there for. We really wanted to let you hear her story because it’s really a powerful part of what 3D printing then interjected meant to her.
Listen to the podcast here:
Sophia the Bionic Cat, A New Vision for 3D Printing Innovation with Karolyn Smith
Karolyn, thanks so much for joining us.
I am really excited to be here. Thanks so much for having me on.
I love the way you got into 3D printing. You have such an interesting background. You enlisted after 9/11. What happened when you came home?
I did enlist after 9/11 at the very tender age of 29. I was an athlete before I went to the military and I deployed to Iraq in 2004. The uniqueness of me is I was a cruiser machine gunner.
What does that mean?
I have over 300 combat patrols as a machine gunner. I was the person on the top of the truck manning the machine gun. There is less than one half of one half of one half of a percent of women that were forward-deployed and I happen to be one of them. It’s what makes my brand and my story unique, not the fact that women have not been deployed and all those great things, but the amount of combat patrols I have, the amount of roadside bombs I’ve been through and car bombs, and all of those things because I was a machine gunner. That’s something that you don’t typically see. You see it a little bit more now as the war has progressed but in 2004, 2005 when I was in Iraq, I was in the second deadliest sector in Iraq and that was something that you did not see, a woman that was manning a machine gun. The cool thing is I happened to be one. The reverse side is I happened to have been one. Car bombs, roadside bombs, and terrorists don’t discriminate. They really don’t care what your gender is. Adrenaline masks a lot of injuries. A lot of the injuries that I sustained were masked by 365 days of adrenaline because I’ve got over 300 patrols. Every single day, you got to get up and do your job, whether you’re not feeling good, you’re sore, you’re achy. All of us were suffering. September 7th, 2004, I lost my teammate in my truck. He was killed right next to me. It was horrific but it was amazing, too. If you think about it, I was there January 2005 for the very first free elections in Iraq and saw the most amazing things of transformation for a country. I have some amazing pictures of things that other people haven’t seen before. It was amazing. It was horrific.
After the thirteenth roadside bomb, I knew I was injured but adrenaline was masking quite a few things and it was the very last day we were there. We got hit by a roadside bomb. I was up in the turret and received the blast in the back. We were leaving that day and my team is like, “Are you okay?” I got knocked out for a couple of seconds, which is ironic because you wake up a couple of seconds later and you’re like, “Let’s keep going.” We redeployed back to Germany. All of us were in pain. We were all suffering. We were suffering from severe headaches and exhaustion and everything. It took about a month and a half for the adrenaline surge to stop. It’s not like you jump out of war and it goes away. Technically, it didn’t stop surging for fourteen years because of your body chemistry.
Your body chemistry is altered at that moment, right?
Yeah, forever. That’s what PTSD really is. It’s the hyper-vigilance and your body determines, “We want these chemical levels to stay here because it keeps you alive, so we’re going to keep you hyper-vigilant like this.” People don’t realize that the hyper-vigilant levels stay this way when you’re trying to have a nice time at the movie theater or a barbecue with your friends, but your body is dumping the adrenaline and keeping it at that high level that you can’t relax ever.
Actually that’s how we got connected is because of my friend, Nick Ripplinger and his partner Bennett Tanton. You read the article that I wrote about their new company, Battle Sight Technologies. Bennett has a Change Your POV Podcast which is multiple podcasts which really are helping with that transition. That’s their goal. Most of the shows that they do is focused on veterans and helping that transition because that transition isn’t just those 30 days. It’s those many years of going through that.
We’re all good friends. We just happen to live in different parts of the nation. For me, I’m the 2014 Veteran of the Year for the 71st District here in San Diego. We strive to find different methods to ensure that military service people, whether they’re just transitioning out or it’s ten years later. I’m an advocate of advanced biotechnology and other people have CBD positions that they look into because there’s no one tool that’s going to be the end-all be-all, there are layers.
This is your connection to innovation. You come home and you’re struggling with how to be treated and all of these things. This is what introduced you to this level of innovation you hadn’t expected to be excited by.
I struggled so bad. I had a fractured lower lumbar spine. I had a herniated spine. I had a slip spine. I had secondary to inhalation. I had PTSD. I had a brain injury. I was treated horrifically by the VA because when I first went in, they said, “Women are not in combat. Why don’t you tell us what really happened?” The VA, for six years in my file, they said I was blown up by an IUD. From 2010 to 2015, I was left on very high opioids. That was the VA’s way to fix me. I became part of the opioid epidemic inside of the VA. I was left there on the side of the curb until biotech stepped in. My life literally was saved by the biotech industry. There’s a non-profit up in LA called Operation Mend. It’s a partnership with UCLA. What they did is they gave me a bone morphogenic protein fusion on my L4, L5, S1 which is your belly button below. What it’s doing is it’s creating my own genetic bone back into my spine. I am no longer on opioids. I barely take an Aleve. I’m in my 40s, so I’ve lived a life, I’ve traveled all over the world, done my thing. At that time, I became a lover of tech and innovation. I never really considered it before. My bachelor’s is in Homeland Security Emergency Management, emphasis on terrorism. I never really considered technology and all of those things. That wasn’t really my genre.
That day that I got accepted into the UCLA program, I went on to Facebook and this picture of this kitten came up, and then her story came up. There’s this little kitten and her name is Sophia. Sophia is a preemie. When she was found here in San Diego, she was eight days old and she was left in a field. Her mom probably birthed her and bailed. Her umbilical cord had wrapped around her paw and she had been trying to get up and push on through her eight days of life. Her umbilical cord had been ripping from her belly button so it gave us an indication that she was trying to get up and move forward and trying to find food and trying to find shelter, but she couldn’t because the umbilical cord was also strangling that rear paw and cutting off all the blood flow. She had to have been going through some severe pain. She was found and taken to the San Diego Humane Society and they did a rear paw amputation. She was not making it because she was so tiny. The same day, another litter came in which is not associated with her. There was a little boy in there and they plucked him out, put him with her, and he rehabbed her and they’re a bonded pair.
I saw that story and I was like, “She is me. She is the struggle and the perseverance and the heart, and just trying to keep moving forward, just trying to keep a way to survive and all those things.” When I went in there to talk about adoption, it’s the same time that I received the Veteran of the Year for the district from Congressman Duncan Hunter. My story was already on the news and the Humane Society was like, “This is an amazing story, disabled veteran adopts disabled kitten.” Then People magazine picked the story up and they switched it, and they said, “Disabled veteran adopts disabled kitten.” Then the Today Show Online picked it up and they double-switched it and they said, “Disabled kitten adopts disabled veteran.”
It still works either way. She was calling to you.
I just sat down one day and it was like my sixteen years of risk mitigation. Animals can totally survive with three limbs but for her, because she was a preemie, I was like, “She’s not going to have a great life.” I thought about it and I was like, “I’m just going to Google and get her a new leg because somebody had to have made that one.” I was so shocked that nobody had made one before. You could buy a new bird beak or something.
We’ve seen the duck beaks and we’ve seen even flippers for ducks and dolphins. Of course, there are prosthetics for humans. By that time, there was already quite a lot of work being done by e-NABLE. I even remember seeing some prosthetics for dogs, so it’s not a huge stretch to think you could do it for a cat.
I was looking around and looking around, I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” I sketched out a design. I looked around and everybody was like, “You’re crazy.” I Googled 3D makerspaces and I didn’t really know what I was looking for. It came up as Fab Lab here in San Diego which is a volunteer 3D makerspace.
We actually featured them really early on. We probably featured them within the first dozen and we went down and visited them. Definitely, they’re a great lab. They have great mission there and great facility of people.
I created a social media platform for Sophia because it was a great story and it was developing through the platforms. People magazine had picked it up, The Today Show picked it up, and it was rolling along pretty much on its own. Just as I was opening Sophia the Bionic Cat‘s Facebook page, I got a message from Fab Lab. Fab Lab is ran by Allen who is a former marine. I’m former army and I went down to the lab and I said, “Allen, I have a crazy idea for you.” I showed him my idea. He’s like, “Let’s do it.”
That’s the good point of a makerspace.
I did a GoFundMe and I raised $1,500. I know it’s a volunteer thing but you always have to give back to these folks who are helping to create something.
Thank you for saying that because it happens so often that they’re like, “You have skills, so of course you should donate your time.” Giving back to them is so critically important. Bringing exposure and PR is helpful and mentions when they do something so great, but it is also important that they can keep funding their ventures to help more people.
If I had a background in this and I had made 95% of it and they just had to put it through the machine and print it out, that would be one thing, but there were so many things that had to be designed in this. I knew what time meant. Now as a public speaker and an author and all these things, I understand the value of time. I wanted to make sure that the artists and everybody who had a hand in it got a piece of something back because they were giving a piece of something to me that I didn’t understand how to do, and I was learning along the way. You always have to give something back to the people that are “volunteering” the time. It’s always important to give back because what it does is it fosters a long term relationship. It’s not a one-and-done, “Thanks very much. I appreciate it.” Everybody should always try and give back when they can. It was really important to the project because we’re still all really good friends. In partnership with Fab Lab, we created the very first detachable 3D-printed prototype prosthetic for a cat. It actually gets better. What we did is we turned this whole journey into a children’s book called Sophia the Bionic Cat. I self-printed it because it’s ironic, I don’t have any kids but every time I’d go to the lab, somebody would have their kids in there and they’d be petting Sophia and asking about the story. I have a brain injury. It’s one of my injuries. Instead of having to constantly sit down and tell this story to the kids, I was like, “How can I multitask?” That was how that worked out. Because I do have a brain injury and I have to create workarounds to jump what the issue is, I found a font called Open Dyslexic.
It’s is a font that was created for people with dyslexia. What it is is that if you don’t have dyslexia, you’re really not going to notice anything. What the font does is it creates enough of the brushstroke in the words that get mixed up. If you have dyslexia, you’re going to read my book the way I wrote it, not the way dyslexic brains choose to jumble the words up. This book is now being endorsed by the American Dyslexia Association. We have an endorsement through them.
What you’re saying is you’ve made a book that is written in the language that dyslexic people understand more natively?
Yes. I do not have dyslexia but my brain has characteristics of dyslexia when I get tired because I have a TBI which is a traumatic brain injury from too many roadside bombs. I really noticed it when I have to deal with math. I just started my master’s degree here in January for Cyber Security Policy and thank God I have no math in that one.
You are taking on complex innovation that is math-involved in some way, shape, or form. Kudos to you for not having that be your strength.
That’s what innovators do. We find things that once we figure out what the workaround is, you want to help other people. If somebody would have helped me, it would have been easier on me, but that’s okay. Once I find something, you want to help somebody else. I wish somebody would have figured this out for me earlier so I wouldn’t have suffered so long. I use my post 9/11 GI Bill for my associates in my bachelor’s degree, but it took me so much longer that it didn’t cover my master’s degree. If something would have worked earlier, it would have been easier to get these degrees done sooner, but it is what it is. Now I’m finding the workaround and creating a children’s book that helps little kids that do have dyslexia. It’s more conversation in the book. It’s not just about technology and love and the human-animal bond and all of those things. It’s also going to help kids that have dyslexia. That’s what we did for that.
The great thing is, as a 3D innovator, we just partnered with the Colorado School of Mines. They are the number two school of engineering in the United States. They sent me an email. The director, or whatever his official title is, sent me an email off of Sophia’s Instagram page and he says, “I have to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever been so inspired. I’m an engineer. I’ve been an engineer my entire life pretty much. I started a couple of years ago implementing prosthetics for animals as a course requirement for students in my engineering course.” He said, “I looked at part of the course requirements making prosthetics for cats but I thought it was too much of a stretch.” They stuck with prosthetics for dogs. He stumbles on my story about a woman who has no background in engineering who created a prototype prosthetic for a cat.
It shouldn’t be that hard. How much harder is a cat than a dog, right?
It’s incredibly difficult because, A) Cat’s like nothing on their paws, B) The workspace you have to work with is so much smaller, and the way that their ankle bones are and everything is just smaller. It’s like making a prosthetic for your pinky. It’s really small.
That’s where 3D printing should be ideal because we have great printers that really are intricate and can get smaller. It’s finding the right printer and the right application for it. That’s a little complicated but worth the challenge.
He said, “I don’t want to assume you need any help.” The ironic thing was I needed help because we were maxed out at Fab Lab because, again, it was a volunteer project. They had volunteered this particular prototype to me and they had given all the rights to me and everything, and they said, “This is a one-off. This is for you.” They didn’t see the end vision for me, what I wanted to do with it, which was fine. They said, “Here are all the rights. Here’s everything for you.” I was like, “That’s great. That’s awesome.” It needs to be pulled in a little bit more and some little things need to be adjusted because Sophia is so small. I didn’t want to ask them for more of their time. I felt like I had maxed out all of their time and I didn’t want to ask for more of their time. I’m so mind-blown. It’s so amazing. It’s so cool. Here, at the very end of when I needed the next step, the Colorado School of Mines steps in. Now we partnered with them. They have offered to not only take on this project but offer all of the supplies, all of the time, everything at no cost to us and no patenting for the patenting side, because you might as well patent it. I was thinking, “What’s in it for them?” What’s in it for them is going to be extended federal funding. Kudos to them. It’s going to be great for them and for their students. They’re a small school. I don’t know if you know much about them but they’re tiny.
I have not heard of them before. We know quite a few of the schools in Colorado have really terrific 3D printing programs and other things and we know a lot of the sports that come in are mostly around the Denver area.
I was struggling with a couple of things. I’ve created this brand by myself. I don’t have a marketing background. I don’t have marketing help. The book, I self-published. I didn’t have a publishing company. I didn’t know what I was doing. If you’ve worked with veterans, because I know you have, we like doing things by ourselves, we’re a little bit stubborn. My thing was I have a hard time asking for help because I’d gone through so much trauma and so much pain and I’d been so let down by the VA and I never got the help that I needed through them, that I was like, “I’m going to put my head down. I’m going to use the common sense that I have. I’m going to use the sixteen years of high-risk mitigation to figure all this stuff out by myself,” and I did. Were there easier ways to probably go about it? Sure. I have a mortgage to pay here in San Diego. Everything is out of my pocket. Are there easier ways to do things? Sure. Can I get the book out? Sure. Now I’m able to take a step back, take a deep breath, and be like, “I’ve created this all by myself. Now I need more help, now I need to find a marketing company and all these other things, but I’ve created this by myself.”
This is why we brought you on because we really wanted to give this exposure of the journey of going in. It’s not just about 3D printing. It’s about a bigger picture. You have a plan. You have a vision. You have a mission. You have these things that you want to go and maybe 3D print is a part of it or some innovation is a part of it. We get too caught up in the innovation itself that we forget that this is a much longer journey. That’s why I wanted to bring you on so that people can really see it’s one small part. It’s great that you did this, but it’s one small part of a bigger plan for you, of a bigger mission.
I did a speaking event for Biocom. It was my biggest speaking event of 2017. It was for their gala. I told them my story and there were 900 people at their gala and also Scott Hamilton, the Olympic figure skater. My mom was in attendance. It was amazing. They represent 800 of the biotech genome and pharma companies in Southern California which is the hub of life sciences in the nation. In April of 2017, I stepped away from corporate. I was corporate security for the Bank of Tokyo which is Mitsubishi Unified domestically, which is Union Bank. I’ve spent the last sixteen years in corporate security high-threat risk mitigation and all that stuff and I stepped away from that security of corporate paycheck to step out and be a public speaker and 3D printer and author and stuff like that. 33 years ago, I sat and watched Scott Hamilton win his gold medal as a young teenager. Now, he’s sitting here and he’s listening to my story. We get this big standing ovation and it’s pretty amazing to talk to these tech companies. Hanger Prosthetics is there and all of these companies that are in not just 3D but genome, the genome companies and the amazing things that they’re doing there.
The city of San Diego called and they said, “Would you be interested, we’d like to consider putting you on the San Diego Veterans Advisory Council.” It’s not a paid position but it’s an appointed board position. My whole goal is to save veterans’ lives. If it’s going to help me with the animal-human bond and saving those things and pairing veterans with animals and that whole thing, that’s great. I was like, “That’s completely amazing.” As this journey continues to go along, there are companies that will call and say, “We heard this story.” Anyway, I get done with my speech. I get a standing ovation and five or ten minutes later, Scott Hamilton who’s the main speaker, I’m the warm-up for him, he gets up and he literally stands there in front of everybody, including my mother, and he says, “I don’t know how to follow Karolyn’s speech.” I’m thinking, “You’re Scott Hamilton.”
The irony is that I went to my first Olympic trials when I was nineteen. I raced on the velodrome. I was an athlete and I was really serious about going to the Olympics for my discipline, for my sport, when I was a teenager. I moved on to Australia when I was 21. I was an athlete. It was very pivotal for me to give that up when 9/11 came around, to determine at 29 to go off and serve my country. He gets up and he looks right at me and there are all these amazing people in this crowd. He looks at me and he says, “Karolyn, I’m an Olympic medalist but you’re a hero.” Everybody stands up and I was like, “Are you guys seeing this? Is anybody else seeing this?” It was the most amazing moment in my whole life at that point in time. It just told me that, “I don’t have a corporate paycheck right now but it’s going to be okay because he said that in front of my mom.” That was the first speaking event my mom had ever been to and it was so powerful, so it was pretty cool.
Karolyn, you talked about this Biocom, you’re speaking career needs to keep taking off because that sounds amazing and who doesn’t want to listen to that, but you touched on a couple of little things in there like we see an explosion in 3D printing, in bio, and genome. Tell us a little bit about this 3D to 4D and genome.
There are some amazing key companies here in San Diego that have successfully used genome in a process of 3D transitioning to genome. Are you familiar with those?
Not technically because bio is not our field and we’re more on the design side of things. I’ve heard of some really amazing things happening and San Diego is leading the world in this.
Here’s something pretty interesting and I’m going to drop some hints. There was, for example, a 3D-printed kidney that went through a stem cell bath in the genome side and it turned into a fully functioning kidney.
For our audience out there, my little bit of understanding of it is that there is a uniqueness to something being 3D-printed because it mimics organic much better than any other process, but that doesn’t mean your body is going to accept it any better. The stem cell bath puts it to that next level.
If you are an amputee, we can take a 3D-printed prototype prosthetic and get it as close to your size dimension as perfectly possible and go to the genome side and really just create the closest thing to your leg as possible. Think of the implications of that. I’m a recipient. I literally am #bionic because if you go back, remember I have my own genetic bone growing back into my spine.
These are little glimpses. This is not tomorrow stuff but there are going to be generations that follow you that are going to benefit. There are going to be generations of animals that follow cats like Sophia that are going to benefit. That just excites me to no end and brings me to what I want to really say to you, Karolyn. This is why I try to, whenever possible, profile great veterans like you. We thank you for your service to our country, but it’s this continued service that is profound and I would say harder on your part because you don’t have the same camaraderie and support system, and it requires those of us who have not done that type of service to serve you.
You just gave me the chills. I really appreciate that because that’s exactly how it feels. It feels like I’m swinging out on the ledge. I can call my brothers and sisters up who are entrepreneurs in the veteran community, but the reality is, and you guys know this, as entrepreneurs your time is so consumed. When you’re in the military, you’re consumed with each other because that’s the life. You have to be. I have to help you survive. I have to help you live. I have to help you because you have to help me because we have to make it through this stuff. Once you break from that family structure and you go do this on your own, it’s so much more difficult. What I’m trying to do really is give veterans new missions. If one thing that I could do is going to help reduce the incidence of suicides amongst the veteran community, that is my goal. My story is a little bit different because I’m tying an animal into it, but the human-animal bond is so powerful that what if that bond is one more trick in the bag to help reduce suicide within our community? What if that is what it is? The difference with cats is two-fold that people don’t take it into consideration. When a cat purrs and has human contact, it releases oxytocin in the brain which is a natural feel-good chemical.
It really is helping your brain, which you need. That’s something you critically needed. That’s what I wanted to follow up. What you were just saying there is right. Entrepreneurs, it doesn’t matter whether they’re veteran entrepreneurs or regular entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs or people in our 3D print community who’ve been a lot on their own in their own little areas pioneering things. When you look at that, they require an opportunity to find community. That’s why we started our podcast here. It was helping them find community, helping them find each other, because it is in finding each other, whether it’s human to human or human to animal, that you create not just a new mission but you’re creating a new opportunity for you to find and have a new family who needs each other.
What you are doing is you’re creating six degrees of separation for me. That’s amazing. You’re becoming woven into the fabric, into something that you would never have had that opportunity to be woven into. That’s a great thing that you guys are doing. You’re piecemealing us together in ways that is so beneficial. I’m so glad you guys are here. It’s ironic because most veterans, no disrespect of course, but we have a hard time integrating with the folks on the outside world. It really is because our vernacular is quite different, our drive sometimes can be very different. In the way we come off, people are like, “You’re intimidating and your words are harsh.” It’s just because we’re so ingrained to get things one-and-done and “This is how it is.” It’s just how we are, and people are very offended. We don’t have that PC filter very much.
You need people who can handle that and can communicate like that. Karolyn, it has been such a joy and such a pleasure to have you on the show. I thank you so much for all your service. We look forward to hearing more about your journey.
I’m so honored to be here. You are doing such amazing things connecting the veteran community and connecting the outside to the inside. That’s really going to help us and our community. I really appreciate your time. I hope to talk to you guys again sometime in the future and do a catch-up on all the cool things that’s happening.
Thanks so much for sharing your story.
Sophia the Bionic Cat, A Story of Perseverance and 3D Printing Innovation – Final Thoughts
It’s really quite a moving story. My jaw was dropping so many times as we were hearing her story. I’ve profiled a few veterans and veteran technology. I try to write about it whenever I can, whenever I hear a really great story about some veterans who have developed technology or come up with innovation because it’s a way for me to serve and give back to them. If all I got to do is write an article or do an interview, that’s easy on my part. That is no risk. We read about them in the publications we read. You hear them or see them on television. When you really hear her story, it’s like, “Look what someone has had to go through because they served our country and put themselves in harm’s way.” It’s profound. It is life-altering in so many different ways. Whatever we have to deal with in our lives that’s negative or challenging seems very minor in comparison. It gives you a lot of perspective. She mentions it a few times but it’s a little bit glossed over. It’s also magnified for her as a woman in that area. She didn’t just blaze pass in the military when she was in it but in aftercare and in coming out of it and in where she’s moving to and her whole entire journey. She’s at the forefront of everything. She’s on the front line of everything she’s done here. That is just so impressive.
Karolyn Smith is an inspiration to perseverance and to not letting lack of experience and innovation and technology stop you from innovating. She’s definitely got an entrepreneurial spirit. Certainly, she has her past experience that drives her. She’s a public speaker. She goes out on the speaking circuit. If you ever happen to have an opportunity to hear her speak, you would really enjoy that. It’s very interesting to see how different people innovate and have that drive to achieve something and how they go about doing it. A lot of people do it in different ways. They don’t let any of the tech get in the way. Why bother? Just connect. She had some challenges with math, among other things, and did not let that be an obstacle. It really does make me appreciate it. Certainly, our grandparents were the generation where they all served in World War II. Pretty much everybody who was able-bodied served in that war in the United States. We didn’t have to serve in our generation. Karolyn didn’t have to serve either. She chose to.
I think about what you and I do for a living in design and development of products, the mindset that we have to be in to design products that make an emotional connection with people to buy them on a retail shelf, it does seem small in the scope of things of people fighting war over in Iraq or Afghanistan. I don’t think we could ever do our job as designers if we had the kind of experience that Karolyn has had. Your mind has to go to such a different place and your job is so different, it’s very tactical that I don’t know that I could put my head in the right place to be a good product designer if I had served the way she had.
It’s a different model but that’s one of the things I learned from Nick Ripplinger’s book, Front Line Leadership, which I absolutely loved. There are lessons to be learned from all the things that happened to him in the military. He’s now been applying them to being an entrepreneur and to coming out of it. It’s completely applicable to being an entrepreneur or even being innovative. I was talking specifically about design. It’s a different method and a different process about how you apply these things, and what you learn from them and how you grow. When you have a process for something that you’re very used to doing and you keep applying that, in Karolyn’s case, that is to overcome the next barrier, climb the next wall, break down the next glass ceiling, whatever it is in her process. That’s been her MO. That’s been her way of going about things, and that hasn’t changed even though her brain suffered an injury and it changed.
That is what’s so admirable in this process and why you want to go connect with her, which is what we want to invite you to do. I bought Sophia the Bionic Cat while she was talking because I want my daughters to read it and that’s one great way to support her. If you’ve got the right audience, please invite her to speak. Look how inspirational she is and look at the stories she’s got that tie-in biotech. That’s just amazing. She’s a perfect speaker for lots of things. Please connect with her and with us, and let us know. If you have an inspiring veteran’s story, if you’re the veteran or if you know someone, please send them our way because we do like to cover them. We like to highlight the amazing things that are going on and what they are doing and applying with what their journey was before, with how they’re transitioning back into this world because it’s very different. If there’s anything we can do, please reach out to us. I hope you enjoyed that episode. We’ll be back next time with another great episode. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- Karolyn Smith
- Nick Ripplinger
- Battle Sight Technologies
- Sophia the Bionic Cat
- Change Your POV Podcast
- Fab Lab
- Sophia the Bionic Cat’ Facebook page
- Colorado School of Mines
- Hanger Prosthetics
- Front Line Leadership
- Scott Hamilton
About Karolyn Smith
San Diego native Karolyn Smith enlisted in the US Army shortly after 9/11, at the tender age of 29. Serving as the ‘crew-serve’ machine gunner Iraq in 2004 as a military police officer, Karolyn sustained injuries from one too many roadside bombs, and would eventually return home to San Diego. Severally under-treated by the VA facility and finding herself on a new battlefield struggling with the crippling effects of PTS(D) and debilitating pain. Karolyn would be treated with high dose Opioid’s by the VA for almost 5 years, coming dangerously close to being one of the ‘#22 a day’ veteran statistic. Never a woman to back down from a fight, Karolyn set out to find a better answer than the VA, and she found it; UCLA operation mend, and in 2015 received a ground breaking advanced bio-tech spinal surgery. The innovation bug caught her….
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