True to his roots, Rick Peters is an Indianapolis Colts fan, and it would be an understatement to say that he was displeased when quarterback Peyton Manning left the Colts after 12 years to play for the Denver Broncos. Luckily for Manning, Peters doesn't hold a grudge.
Peters' company, Ultra Athlete LLC (Carmel, IN), designs and manufactures next-generation ankle braces that have gained legions of converts in the sporting world. When Peters learned that Manning might have to sit out the Broncos' Nov. 17 game against the then-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs because of an ankle injury, he sprang into action. Peters overnighted his company's Ultra CTS brace to Denver's head trainer just four days before the game. Peters was happy enough to see Manning take the field that Sunday, a game that the Broncos went on to win, but it's fair to say that he became ecstatic when a tight shot of Manning's leg during the game showed him to be wearing the brace. Peters was surprised—no one had alerted him that Manning might be sporting his invention—but only up to a point. "The sort of ankle injury that Manning sustained is painful and takes a long time to heal," said Peters, adding that the Ultra CTS brace is perfect for the sort of high ankle sprain from which Manning was suffering. "Having an athlete of that stature wearing our brace is a strong validation of our design," Peters told PlasticsToday.
The ankle brace is made of a polyurethane mixture—a trade secret, says Peters—that conforms to the wearer's leg and foot as it absorbs body heat. The material is more flexible than nylon and polypropylene, which are traditionally used to mold braces, yet its tensile strength is off the charts. "We were the first to use that material for an ankle brace," says Peters, who adds that the finished device is designed to be lighter and less bulky than traditional braces while providing more support.
|The Ultra CTS ankle brace. Image courtesy Breg.|
An old hand at ankle brace technology, Peters was responsible for his first game-changing design when Manning was playing "pee-wee" football. He patented his first ankle brace in 1984, which broke with tradition by adding a hinge to promote mobility. Peters founded his first company, Active Ankle Systems, in 1989, but left seven years later when he disagreed with investors' decision to diversify the company's product line. He then started Athlete Protection Gear in 1998, which became Ultra Athlete LLC in 2001. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the company's sales nearly doubled in 2012 and are up 112% year on year through the first nine months of 2013. Approximately 80% of sales are to athletes, with the remainder sold for medical use, primarily through orthopedics company Breg. The medical part of the business is also experiencing rapid growth, according to Peters.
Peters takes pride in the fact that the braces not only are designed in Indiana but are manufactured nearby, as well: Metro Plastics Technologies (Noblesville, IN) molds the shells and Genesis Plastics Welding (Fortville, IN) assembles the devices. Proximity is a plus—working with Indiana companies "feels like the right thing to do," Peters told the Indianapolis Business Journal—but the expertise and problem solving these companies bring to the project is what truly matters.
"Urethane can be a difficult resin to mold, especially with a product such as ours that has multiple wall thicknesses—thin in some areas to promote comfort and thick where strength is required. Adding to the complexity is the organic shape of the device, which moves with the body. We needed a molder with expertise in that area and found one at Metro Plastics." Genesis Plastics Welding then assembles the braces and makes the straps. "Nothing is sewed on, everything is bonded, so there is nothing to unravel," Peters explains.
Peters' customer base includes athletes from almost every Indiana college and a number of national programs. Members of the Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions have worn his braces, but Manning is, by far, the highest profile player to slip one on. I guess it's going to be hard to top that, I mused. "Where are you based? Los Angeles?" Peters asked. "Well, you wouldn't happen to know someone who knows Kobe Bryant?"