As temperatures climbed toward triple digits Saturday afternoon, a group of UTC researchers and students were at Coolidge Park, experimenting with a new way to cool off. It's called Core Cooler, which, ideally, could help anyone exposed to the heat lower their internal temperature quicker.
“This is an interesting product that physiologically makes sense,” said Brendon McDermott, who is an assistant professor with the graduate athletic training program at UTC and is leading the study.
The device looks like a standard water bottle, and aside from holes cut into the straw, that’s essentially what it is.
“It’s so simple,” said Frank Affinito, a California man who developed the product a few years ago and was on hand Saturday for the testing. “It really is such a silly idea. But I’m humbled. It really works and it’s going to save lives.”
Affinito was in a sauna when the idea came to him. An elderly lady would come in for a few seconds then have to leave, then come back and leave again quickly. Affinito was at first frustrated because she was letting his hot air escape, but he also thought there may be a way to make the heat more bearable.
“I’m in a 160-degree sauna and I’m breathing cold air,” Affinito said of taking his first Core Cooler back to the gym. “I started showing it to some doctor friends of mine and some physical therapists. And (one friend) just said, ‘Do you know what you’ve done?’”
Affinito has since found investors, but the product is yet to become popular in stores or athletic circles. He’s done some preliminary testing, such as breathing from the bottle while on a stationary bike, but there’s a need for more results.
McDermott has agreed to do the study, which Affinito said is costing him more than $50,000, in hopes of finding more conclusive evidence.
“The practical use is that athletes could be breathing in cold air during breaks of exercise, or if you’re on a cycle, then you could be doing it while you’re biking,” McDermott said. “It would basically lead to better, safer exercise. Given the environmental extremes we’ve had recently, I hope it works.”
Saturday at Coolidge Park, the research subjects spent between 10 and 15 minutes playing games such as soccer and ultimate frisbee. Then some rested while breathing from the Core Cooler, while others recovered without the product. McDermott and the UTC staff measured heart rate as well as intestinal temperature, which is gauged by an ingestible thermistor swallowed by each of the subject a few hours before exercise.
The study will continue with the same group of about 20 students next weekend, but results probably won’t be available for a few months. A larger sample is needed and the measurements need to be looked at closely.
In the meantime, Affinito will continue to push his product. If the results come back favorably, he hopes to send the report to high schools as well as the NCAA.
“If a coach starts to see signs of an athlete suffering from a heat-related illness, he can get them on the bottle, if they’re not already using it,” Affinito said. “(It can) lower that core temperature while en route to a hospital or while the EMT is working with them.”
McDermott, before any of the testing began, remained cautiously optimistic. If the study is successful, he believes it could be extremely beneficial.
“I hope it does (work), because if it does, then athletes are going to be safer,” McDermott said. “The study, in my mind, is a success either way because we’re testing it and we’re contributing to a body of knowledge.”