Wings for Life World Run

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool.

It’s the race in which roles are reversed: the finish line chases you.

The 2017 Wings for Life World Run is May 7 across the world and the event is setup unlike any other road race you’ve experienced. After the race, which is synced worldwide, begins, the Catcher Car travels at 15 km/h before increasing speed. The farther a runner can get without being caught, the better the end result will be. (Winners typically reach 50-85K.)

Scattered among the thousands of global participants, who run in support of Wings for Life, an organization aimed at supporting treatment of spinal cord injuries and paraplegia, are a number of incredible comeback stories. Vancouver’s Andrew Cho, a former professional mountain biker, is one such example.

25 cm from potential death

On Jan. 6, 2017, Cho was out with friends for dinner when he began experiencing dizziness and numbness in his neck and spine. He left dinner early. Then, back at his home, symptoms of “sleepiness” in his hands and feet began and he checked his motor functions. The 30-year-old stood up from the couch after realizing he may have been having a stroke. Then, everything cut out and he fell onto his chest. “That was the best position possible to get help,” he recalls.

On the ground as a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, alone, his iPhone was close by.

In a remarkable moment of strength, Cho inched towards the phone using only his chin and managed to activate Siri, a program on the iPhone that allows usage through voice activation, with his tongue. He was able to call 911 and was rushed to nearby hospital where emergency surgery to decompress his spine was performed.

The earlier feelings he experienced were burst blood vessels in Cho’s C3 and C4 vertebrae. In the almost-four months since, Cho has regained limited mobility and has started walking, and light jogging, with help from staff at the G.F. Strong Rehab Centre in Vancouver. Cho sees inspiration in Mike Shaw, a skier involved in a horrific crash a few years ago, who has helped Cho visualize where his recovery can take him.

Wings for Life World Run

The digital marketing manager with GT Bicycles will participate in the Wings for Life World Run through the event’s new format: organized App Runs. (Though there are no Wings for Life World Runs in Canada in 2017, there are several designated events, known as App Runs, where locals will meet and partake together with the help of the mobile application.) The May 7 event will be one day after the four-month anniversary of Cho’s life-changing incident.

“Wings for Life is a really cool foundation and it hits close to me,” Cho says. “The way doctors treated me in the hospital was different than 5-10 years ago in regards to spinal cord injuries. It’s a great cause and I’m inspired to run [the Wings for Life World Run] because I couldn’t even walk a few months ago. It’s also a great oppurtunity to meausre where I’m at and hopefully in 2018, I can measure my progress again.”

Run alongside Canada’s Olympic legends

Wings for Life World Run

Charles Hamelin at the 2014 ISU Short Track Speed Skating World Cup in Montreal. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool.

Elsewhere in Canada, a number of high-profile Canadians will be in attendance including three-time Olympic short track speed skating champion Charles Hamelin. Running itself is deeply-rooted in his life as he was an avid runner when he was young and uses the sport as summer training and as a means of warming up before hitting the ice. He ran the Wings for Life World Run in 2016 in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“One of the highlights was doing it with my girlfriend [three-time Olympic medallist Marianne St-Gelais] and with a big group last year,” the 33-year-old who is looking to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea says. “The time passed so much quicker than running in training. It’s a great cause and something special meeting other people. Though no one close to me has been affected by spinal cord injury, if I can help out with the cause, then that’s great.”

Hamelin will be participating in Montreal, one of four Canadian cities – along with Vancouver, Calgary and Niagara Falls, Ont. – that will host an organized App Run. Elsewhere, runners can download the Wings for Life World Run App (available on iOS and Android) and take part with tens of thousands of others virtually. Everyone who participates will be running for those who can’t.


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