- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

Christopher Whetzel’s mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, would occasionally get stuck when she leaned over the edge of her wheelchair to pick up items off the floor in the family’s Nokesville home.

That is, until Christopher, 11, invented what he calls an “Over the Edge Wheelchair Lift,” a device that would help his mother, and others like her, lift themselves up and sit up straight in a wheelchair.

“I was just looking for something that would help someone in everyday life,” Christopher said, adding that the mechanism also can be handy for the elderly.

The Marsteller Middle School sixth-grader, who developed the device as part of a homework assignment, won a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond and other prizes for it from the 2005 Craftsman/National Science Teachers Association Young Inventors Awards Program.

The contest is sponsored by Sears and open to second- through eighth-graders nationwide.

As one of a dozen national finalists, Christopher will travel in September with his family and science teacher to Chicago, where he could win one of two national awards and another $5,000 savings bond.

Christopher’s invention is currently in Chicago.

The lift is made of pulleys, metal piping and a rope attached to a belt worn around a patient’s chest. The patient can pull the rope opposite the side he or she is leaning to help them sit up.

Christopher “told me I inspired him,” said Sheila Whetzel, the boy’s mother. “I think maybe he got tired of pulling me over after I went too far to one side. He does not say that’s why, but he’s a good sport.”

When he found out he won first prize, Christopher said he was “speechless.”

The homework assignment was initially presented to all sixth-graders at Marsteller Middle School, and his teacher, Annette Doktor, urged her students to submit their entries to the contest.

An honor-roll student who loves math and art, Christopher said he received many compliments from his peers for his invention.

“They thought it was a great idea,” he said after a recent awards ceremony held by the school that honored his achievement.

Christopher belongs to his school’s math/science program and hopes to become a designer when he grows up.

“He’s overall a terrific kid,” Ms. Doktor said. “[He] gets his work done and enjoys a challenge. He did something that is very useful and something that helps another person, and I think that says something about him as a person.”

In the meantime, Christopher is looking forward to the national competition, which begins Sept. 26.

“I’m real excited about going to Chicago because Oprah’s there, so I’m hoping I’ll be on [the] ‘Oprah’ [show],” he said, referring to TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

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