Metal &amp; amp; METTLE
A BattleBot competitor from Columbiana hopes to promote awareness of his son's disorder.
By VERONICA GORLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
COLUMBIANA -- What do you get when you combine street signs, steel tubing, hydraulics and a lawnmower engine?
The Dawn of Destruction.
Controlled by a seven-channel remote control radio, the 325-pound Dawn of Destruction is shaped like a giant wedge and uses a 10-horsepower gas engine to power a hydraulic lift.
The machine is Jim Klein's BattleBot, named after his wife, Dawn.
The Dawn of Destruction was constructed to compete in BattleBots Season 3.0 -- a series of competitions that air 10 p.m. Tuesdays on Comedy Central. The DoD will debut Aug. 14, against Diesector.
Why it's different: What makes Klein's BattleBot different from the other Bots isn't its shape, use of hydraulics or lawnmower engine -- though he said that few Bots use gas engines. The difference is in the Web site heralded on the Bot -- Apraxia-kids.org, a Web site that provides information on apraxia, an oral motor planning disorder.
Klein's 6-year-old son has the disorder.
When James John (J.J.) was 23 days old, he suffered from breast-feeding complications. He lost weight and was severely dehydrated, which caused blood vessels in his brain to break and resulted in seizures. J.J. spent nine days in intensive care at Tod Children's Hospital on a ventilator. He wasn't expected to live, Dawn said.
J.J. recovered, but as he matured, Dawn noticed delays in his development. At the age of 18 months, J.J. was diagnosed with a mild case of cerebral palsy.
Diagnosing apraxia: Soon after, speech therapy began, but it wasn't until J.J. switched therapists at the age of 41/2 -- and an extensive evaluation was completed -- that a severe case of apraxia was found.
Today, J.J. attends therapy twice a week. Talking is hard for him, said Dawn.
"J.J. is only functioning as a 4-year-old in his speech," she said. "His communication skills are just not there. He knows a lot more than he can say."
In addition, J.J. has problems with his fine-motor skills, meaning that stacking blocks and fitting together Legos can be difficult, his parents said.
Dawn, who is host of an online chat session for parents of children diagnosed with apraxia, supplements his learning by home schooling him. Next year, J.J. will attend kindergarten at East Palestine. His interests include gymnastics, drawing, riding his scooter and playing with his 21/2-year-old brother Adam or a neighborhood friend.
"Just because he can't talk well doesn't mean he's not social," his mother emphasized. "He loves other kids and other people. He loves to go places and do things.
"He's aware that other people don't understand him, so he just doesn't talk," she continued.
Though he knows some sign language, he has difficulty manipulating his fingers to make the signs.
"He can say 'BattleBots,' and that's a very difficult word for him," she said proudly.
Getting interested: How did the Kleins become interested in BattleBots?
"I saw it on the Comedy Channel a little before Christmas, and I said, 'I could do that,'" Jim said.
With the help of Mike Miller of Columbiana and Shawn Clark of East Palestine, Jim began construction on his BattleBot in February. It was operational by mid-April. "Team Gas" -- made up of Klein, Miller and Clark -- entered the BattleBot competition in San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend.
According to Jim, the single-elimination tournament allows Bots in four different weight classes to compete one-on-one in the completely enclosed, 48-by-48-foot square arena called the BattleBox. Hazards in the arena include saws, mallets, spears, turntables and a spike strip. Three judges rate the Bots' aggression and the damages they cause to opponents from hits, lifts and hazards.
The Dawn of Destruction competed against 70 other Bots in the super-heavyweight class and brought home three wins. Its final standings among the top 16 in its weight class qualified it for the "Rumble," where all of the top 16 Bots battle for five minutes in the arena.
"It was a learning experience," he said of the competition. "I learned things I'm going to change next time. I have plans to build a better and better one."
Next round: Jim has already started gathering parts and has chosen a name for the second Bot -- "Black Dawn" after his wife again. He hopes to increase the Bot's horsepower from 10 to 40 or 50 and find titanium to reduce the Bot's weight.
"I'm obsessed, and so is my son," he said of J.J. "He builds BattleBots out of Legos every day."
The Dawn of Destruction cost about $1,500 -- one of the cheaper Bots. The Kleins hope to find sponsorship for their Bots and spread awareness of apraxia.
"The most important thing is to help parents," Dawn said. "When you first start hearing about it, it's frightening. Parent-to-parent networking can ease your concerns and fears."
"A lot of people don't understand apraxia," she continued. "We're hoping that getting some exposure for apraxia will help them be more understanding and more accepting."