Published: August 23, 2013
Kathryn Rubin is 90, and her grip strength is half of what it was in her youth. She has trouble opening large-mouth jars, and "a tendency to drop things all the time," she says.
But she can easily open the doors in her independent living home at McKenzie Place with the help of Great Grips. The silicon product slides over nearly any sized circular doorknob, allowing someone to grasp it firmly enough to open it.
"With these grips you can grab the handle and turn it," Rubin said. "I think it gives you a little more independence."
Colorado Springs resident Pat Going, who invented Great Grips, hopes more people like Rubin soon will have access to his product.
Great Grips are available at Affordable Medical Supply on Circle Drive, and Walgreens drug stores added the product to its stores' shelves nationally earlier this year.
Now Going hopes people will help Great Grips make its way into Wal-Mart stores through the company's online competition, "Get on the Shelf." Great Grips fans - or those who want to support a hometown inventor - can go online through Sept. 2 and vote to have Wal-Mart add the product to its stock.
Going, 69, spent decades working for the Arthritis Foundation and the regional information office for the Americans With Disabilities Act technical assistance center. He stumbled upon his Great Grips idea when visiting an elderly woman.
"I came across this lady who was unable to open her front door, if it weren't for 65 rubber bands she had put around her doorknob," Going said, "and I thought, 'There should be a better solution that doesn't smell like rubber tires after you grip them.'"
It took Going about a year to get the first product to market in 1998. Over the next 10 years, he and four other investors spent about $80,000 in patent protections, marketing and the original and new designs. He licensed manufacturing and sales to Utah-based Stander
Today's Great Grips last longer and have two "mini levers" on either side, which allow people to open a door with their elbows or a single finger when their arms are filled with groceries.
"You don't always have to use your hands," said Rubin, who has used the product for 10 years.
Going is a California native who earned a Master's in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967. He discovered Colorado Springs three years later when the Air Force transferred him to the Air Force Academy, where he taught Judo and other forms of unarmed combat. Five years later, he left the military and Colorado. He and his wife returned to Colorado Springs in 1985.
Great Grips isn't Going's first invention, but it is his only successful one. He first tried to invent a privacy shade for computers called the Byte Bonnet. He also worked to create a backyard golf game that "never took off."
Failure was not demoralizing but inspiring, he said; it motivated him to keep trying new ideas.
Today, he has sold more than 1.5 million Great Grips since the first ones hit store shelves. Going sees sales increasing as the nation's Baby Boomer population continues to age, though the product isn't just for the elderly.
Great Grips' popularity has brought Going a sense of pride and accomplishment as he begins to face his own mortality.
"I am 69," he said, "and you'd like to think that maybe you helped people in a small way."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.