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Combining Professional Cycling, Technology and Community Fun at the Curiosity Lab Criterium

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The Curiosity Lab Criterium 2023

Curiosity Lab continues to generate opportunities for the City of Peachtree Corners. Peachtree Corners will be hosting the Curiosity Lab Criterium bike race on Wednesday, April 26.

Within professional cycling, there are three types of cycling races: road races, time trials and criteriums. The most popular and well-known of the three is the road race. Like the famous Tour de France, this format has riders racing from point A to point B on a linear course.

The Criterium is a closed race on city streets, laid out in a looping course. This race allows spectators to watch riders pass by many times, instead of hoping to catch these athletes once.

Professional cyclists will be competing in the race as a part of Speed Week, a series of races throughout Georgia. Speed Week also features the Athens Orthopedic Twilight Criterium, part of the American Criterium Cup, a national series of criteriums. Former professional cyclist Frankie Andreu will be the announcer for some of these exciting races.

Both professional and amateur cyclists will be racing in the Curiosity Lab Criterium in this day-long event. Starting with amateurs and moving into professional cyclists, there will be six races throughout the course of the day. Also, there will be a kids’ race series along a 100-yard flat course in front of city hall.

VRU technology exhibition

Another element of the Curiosity Lab Criterium is the testing and implementation of brand new VRU technology by Spoke. VRU, or vulnerable road users, include pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and e-scooters.

Spoke has recently partnered with Qualcomm, BMC and Audi to work on this new technology. The company’s goal is to prevent VRU-based road incidents and increase the safety of non-car users.

Spoke is developing a device that sends a signal to all surrounding cars letting drivers know the location of VRUs. Most new cars have built-in obstacle avoidance technology but lack the ability to see around corners or see objects out of view.

“This is game-changing connectivity for both safety and for the mobility experience overall,” said Jarrett Wendt, Spoke CEO. “For the first time, Spoke will provide dedicated hardware and software… that connects all users anonymously to each other and to the infrastructure.”

Spoke was looking for a testing environment for this new technology and found Curiosity Labs. City Manager Brian Johnson met with Spoke representatives to create an opportunity to test this technology.

Combining sports, technology and community

On Wednesday of Speed Week, racing teams will come together on the Autonomous Vehicle Test Track in front of City Hall. Spectators will get a chance to see riders pass four times in each lap.

On race day, there will be food trucks at City Hall, as well as vendors and bike manufacturers featured for this mini festival. Spoke will also be showcasing their brand new technology for people to experience and learn more about.

“It’s just a great place to see something that not all cities can set up,” said Brian Johnson. “We’re going to have cutting-edge technology that can’t be showcased anywhere else because our city streets are set up to do this. We’re uniquely positioned, which is why all these big companies want our location.”

Special event information

On Wednesday, April 26, the Curiosity Labs Criterium on the city streets of Peachtree Corners. The series begins at 3:30 p.m. with the women’s amateur division and concludes with the men’s professional division at 8:10 p.m.

Cyclists interested in participating in the race can register at https://www.bikereg.com/59731. The deadline for online registration is Monday, Apr 24, at 12:00 p.m. ET.

The whole family is invited to enjoy the racing, food trucks and exhibits featuring new cycling and safety technologies. Little ones should bring their bikes to take part in the age based kids’ races at 5:45 p.m.

There will also be one-of-a-kind Curiosity Lab Cycling Club jerseys, t-shirts and hats for sale at the event. Parking information and other event details will be released closer to the event.

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Business

Deflecting debilitating blows one Guardian Cap at a time

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A Guardian Cap in use courtesy of Guardian Sports

With football season in the rearview for most players, the effects of injuries–especially those blows to the head–can alter careers and live well after the final play.

A relatively new piece of equipment manufactured in Peachtree Corners helps alleviate much of the impact from those hits that a helmet alone can’t deflect.

Husband and wife team Lee and Erin Hanson started Guardian Sports in 2011 with one goal: innovating equipment to better serve athletes. But one must go back even further to understand the science behind their technology.

“[Our initial company] really had nothing to do with sports,” said Erin.

She and her husband started the Hanson Group, a material science company, about 30 years ago.

“The Hanson Group solves problems for other companies–material science problems,” she said.

“Lee is a chemical engineer from Georgia Tech. … [He created] things for the military and all kinds of applications for all kinds of Fortune 500 companies. If they need something done quickly, they come to the Hanson Group and we try to solve their material science problems,” she explained.

By chance, someone from the helmet industry came to them looking to make a more flexible helmet.

“We saw the data behind what it could do to flex the exterior of a helmet,” she said. “And even though that company didn’t make it, we decided that if we could retrofit any football helmet inexpensively, we could cut down on the impact that all players were feeling.”

Making football fun and safe for all

When the idea for Guardian Caps came together, the Hansons weren’t considering adding another division to the company.

The drive to make the helmet accessory grew from the passion to help the game.

“Quite honestly, Lee and I were pretty far along in our lives. We had raised five children, and he had been at the Hanson Group for at least 20 years by then,” said Erin.

The couple questioned whether they wanted to launch something new and revolutionary. There was nothing like it on the market.

“We felt like if we’re going to go direct to consumer, we’re going to branch off to a whole new company and just go for it and see if we can make a difference,” said Erin.

Through trial and error, Lee and his team analyzed data that showed what a softer helmet exterior could do to reduce impact, which would translate into reducing injury rates.

“And how can we do it in a way that’s affordable and could be available for mass adoption?” Lee said during an interview with the city of Peachtree Corners.

“How can I make it affordable to that mom who’s already buying all that equipment for her child to play youth football? How can we create a one-size-fits-all?” he recalled.

He said they worked with a cut-and-sew facility and seamstress and made up the first prototypes before testing them in a laboratory.

Their son and his teammates at Wesleyan became the first to practice with the new equipment.

In 2012, The University of South Carolina and Clemson were the first college adopters, and the company experienced solid grassroots growth after that.

Joining the Peachtree Corners business community

By 2014, the Hansons moved their company to Peachtree Corners to benefit from the pro-business, family-friendly community and strong Georgia Tech connections.

The Guardian Cap is now used by over 300,000 youth high school and college athletes nationwide and mandated by the NFL for all 32 teams.

The cap dramatically reduces the force of impact upon collision, as experienced by football and lacrosse players. This topic has come to national attention due to CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and its relation to concussions.

According to company literature, in 2017, Guardian won the first NFL HeadHealth TECH challenge to “develop new and improved helmet and protective equipment.”

While the football helmet itself has undergone many changes since the early days of the small leather hats that only covered the tops of the head and the ears (no face mask and nothing to absorb blows from tackles and other hits), Guardian Caps are an accessory that builds upon modern technology.

Some college and professional players wear helmets made so that the interior conforms to their heads. Guardian Caps adds a layer of protection on the outside, absorbing shock before the impact even reaches the helmet.

“Now, obviously, safety is a concern amongst athletes. So, Guardian Cap has come up with this soft-shell layer that goes on top of the hard shell of the helmet,” said Lee.

In 2018, testing done by NFL and NFLPA-appointed engineers revealed that Guardian Caps made a statistically significant improvement over hard-shell helmets alone, company literature said.

By August 2020, the NFL allowed its teams to wear Guardian Caps during practice. The Jacksonville Jaguars were the first to do so. In July 2022, Guardian Caps were featured at NFL training camps for all 32 teams.

This year, the NFL mandated that Guardian Caps be used for the 2023 season in all pre-season, regular season, and post-season practices. Players in position groups with the most head contact will be required to wear Guardian Caps in addition to running backs and fullbacks, as well as linemen and linebackers.

No one-hit-wonder

Genius doesn’t take a timeout, and Guardian Sports isn’t resting on the Caps’ success alone.

“We’re constantly evolving, and although Guardian Caps is our flagship product, we’ve got others,” said Erin.

Their son Jake was a lacrosse goalie at Georgia Tech, dodging rock-hard projectiles flying at him at 93 miles an hour.

“So, we said, ‘You know, why don’t we make lacrosse balls out of rubber?’” Erin said.

Thus, Lee created a urethane ball. Called the “Pearl,” it is now the official ball of the NCAA lacrosse tournament.

The Hansons have also developed infill for artificial turf fields that isn’t made of used car tires.

Without the chemicals and carcinogens of rubber tires, the smoother pellets are puffed with air, cause fewer abrasions and lower the temperature of the field by as much as 30 degrees.

“As we see things, it’s really difficult not to want to solve things when you see our children being affected by it,” said Erin.

Investors initially wanted to sell Guardian Caps at $1,000 each, but the Hansons knew that families couldn’t afford that price tag for youth sports. At the end of the day, they are a dad and a mom who are looking out for the safety of kids.

“The NFL is really cool, and they’ve helped us with exposure, but, you know, we’ve got a real passion for helping those young developing players, for sure,” she said.

Guardian Sports
3044 Adriatic Ct NW
Peachtree Corners, GA 30071
guardiansports.com
770-667-6004

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Curiosity Lab Criterium 2024 Scheduled for Peachtree Corners as Part of Speed Week

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The 2024 Curiosity Lab Criterium will take place on a course in the world-famous Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners.
Curiosity Lab Criterium 2023 (Photos by Roxy Stone, Tytan Pictures)

The City of Peachtree Corners is proud to announce the scheduling of the second Annual Curiosity Lab Criterium as part of Speed Week on April 28, 2024. 

This year’s event will also feature a running race, kid’s races, food trucks, vendors and other activities for the family.

Curiosity Lab Criterium 2023 (Photos by Roxy Stone, Tytan Pictures)

Speed Week is a premiere week-long event on the U.S. Pro Cycling Circuit that draws cyclists from around the world, including Olympic medalists and world and national champions.  

In 2023, the professional men’s and women’s events drew cyclists from over 30 states and more than 20 countries.

The 2024 Curiosity Lab Criterium will take place on a course in the world-famous Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners, a 5G-enabled 500-acre living laboratory ecosystem designed specifically as a proving ground for IoT, mobility and smart city emerging technologies.

Curiosity Lab Criterium 2023 (Photos by Roxy Stone, Tytan Pictures)

The Criterium will feature an array of innovative technologies currently being deployed to help protect vulnerable road users (VRUs).  

This event will also showcase the VRU technology of tomorrow as exhibited by private sector V2X companies and sensor innovators, OEMs hardware and software manufacturers, government officials, bike companies, advocacy groups and more.

Curiosity Lab Criterium 2023 (Photos by Roxy Stone, Tytan Pictures)

Enter a race, or just come to enjoy the festivities.  

CategoryTime Duration
Junior 9-10, 11-12 and 13-1410 a.m.30 min.
Junior 15-16 and 17-1810:45 a.m.30 min.
Master 40+ 11:30 a.m.45 min.
Master 50+ and Master 60+12:30 p.m.45 min.
Women 4/51:30 p.m.30 min.
Men 4/52:15 p.m.30 min.
Women 3/43 p.m.40 min.
Men 2/33:50 p.m.45 min.
Running Race5 p.m.15 min.
Kid’s Races5:15 p.m.15 min.
Women Pro 1/2/3 5:45 p.m.50 min.
Men Pro 1/2 7 p.m.60 min.
Curiosity Lab Criterium schedule

Race registration and additional details will be released as they become available.

Learn more about V2X Mobility here.

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Norcross Women’s Water Polo Claims State Championship Title for the First Time

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By Emily Stevenson, Norcross Coaching Staff

The Norcross Lady Blue Devils capped off a successful water polo season when they claimed the Georgia High School Water Polo Association state title in October. 

A young team with big heart

The team’s founding season was three years ago, in 2021. Over half of the team has been playing only this sport since then. 

“When I first started, I was drowning 90% of the time,” goalkeeper Micaiah Hughes said when recalling her introduction to water polo. 

“Now I’m dragging my family to the pool, talking to everyone about the sport and sharing a fraction of what an amazing transformation it has had on my life,” she added. 

There’s no doubt that this sport has positively impacted these young athletes.

Chestatee High School Sophomore Frankie Arendale passes the ball to complete a goal against the Lady Wildcats.

The road to winning a state championship

The Lady Blue Devils had a stellar season but were ranked third in the state, having lost to the Southern Crescent team of South Atlanta and the Wildcats of Cobb County during their regular season. 

In the state championships, coaches Mariana Lombello and Emily Stevenson knew they had to take a different approach to motivate the athletes to dig deep.

“The talent was always there for us to win the state championship,” Coach Lombello said. “The girls were conditioned, knew their plays and had the connection and camaraderie … the only thing we needed was the drive to win.” 

We encouraged them to dig deep and to really believe that they could be champions, so our theme for the weekend became ‘Believe.’ We had the girls visualize themselves scoring goals, completing passes to one another and holding the trophy,” she explained. 

This encouragement proved successful when the Lady Blue Devils were down by three points to the Lady Wildcats in the semi-final game with only minutes left to play. Coach Lombello called a timeout to center the exhausted athletes and recited their mantra: Believe. 

“I believe you guys can win. This is it. Leave it all in the pool,” Lombello encouraged.

Norcross High School Junior Amelia Washburn looks for space to pass the ball during a regular season game against Atlanta Public Schools program.

Close game propels Lady Blue Devils forward

The Lady Blue Devils lost to the Lady Wildcats three times during the regular season, but they weren’t going to give up. The game ended on a buzzer-beater scored by Norcross High School junior Amelia Washburn

The crowd went wild, recognizing the mental toughness and physical skill required to make a comeback that epic. The final score was 16 to 15, and Norcross advanced to the finals.

Washburn transitioned from swimming to water polo full-time in 2021. 

“Water polo has taught me to not put limits on myself and what I’m capable of … to just go for it,” Washburn said. 

“That has improved my confidence in and out of the pool,” she added. 

Now Washburn, along with her teammates and other players all over North Georgia, plays water polo year-round. They play under North Atlanta Water Polo, the local USA Water Polo-sanctioned league founded by Elizabeth and Chris Arendale.

A special team dynamic 

Chestatee High School sophomore Frankie Arendale was a pivotal playmaker in the Lady Blue Devils’ successful season. With over 50 goals scored this season (10 of them scored in the semi-final game alone), Arendale’s skill was unmatched. 

She attributes her success to the positivity and shared love of her teammates.

“I’ve played water polo for several different teams, but this season was different,” Arendale said. “All of the girls really get each other. No one was down, and everyone was positive. Everything fit together magically.” 

Arendale was recognized as the 2023 Georgia High School Water Polo Association League MVP and has been playing water polo for eight years.

Sophomore Micaiah Hughes blocks a shot from the goal made by a Lakeside High school athlete.

The future of water polo in Georgia is bright

It is the goal of both coaches Lombello and Stevenson, as well as the North Atlanta Water Polo club, to continue to foster a love for this sport in youths. 

“Making a name for Norcross early on in the growth of the sport will be huge,” Elizabeth Arendale, founder of Norcross Water Polo Club girls’ program and North Atlanta Water Polo club, said. “We want to be affiliated with high-level water polo.”

The Lady Blue Devils practice at West Gwinnett Park and Aquatic Center in Norcross, GA.

Team photos taken by Kryski Photography.

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