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Wings for Life World Run returns as Canadians attempt to run 5,500K

The Wings for Life virtual event is set for May 9, and Canada's #TeamCoast2Coast is hoping to collectively run the length of the country

Photo by: Dale Tidy for Wings for Life World Run/Red Bull Content Pool

Now in its eighth year, the Wings for Life World Run is scheduled for May 9 with a wholly virtual event. The run is a fundraiser for spinal cord research around the globe, and proceeds raised by Canadians will fund studies specifically in Canada.

In addition to supporting Canadian research, Canucks who participate in the virtual run will help a group of athletes named #TeamCoast2Coast as they look to collectively run 5,500 kilometres on race day, which would cover the distance from Vancouver to Halifax.

#TeamCoast2Coast is made up of a core group of 12 members, each of whom have been affected by spinal cord injuries. Two of those members are Robert MacDonald and Andrew Cho.

Participants run the sixth edition of the Wings for Life World Run in Vancouver in 2019. Photo: Marlon Soriano for Wings for Life World Run/Red Bull Content Pool

“I will…”  

MacDonald is the founder of Team I Will, a Toronto-based nonprofit that has raised more than $500,000 for the Toronto Rehab Foundation. He found his way to #TeamCoast2Coast following an incredible recovery from an accident that doctors said left him with less than a five per cent chance of ever walking again. 

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It was 2012, and MacDonald was on vacation in Mexico. One night after supper, he was on his way back to his hotel room when he realized he didn’t have his key.

“Instead of going to find it, I decided to climb up to my balcony,” he says. He climbed up three floors, and just as he was nearing his room, his shoulder gave out (he had suffered an injury in hockey years earlier that left his shoulder weak) and he fell 30 feet.

“I hit the ground and I thought two things,” MacDonald says. “One: ‘What have I done?’ And two: ‘I can’t feel my legs.'” Unable to move from the waist down, MacDonald was rushed home to a hospital in Toronto, where doctors determined he had an extremely slim chance of ever walking again (although he says they didn’t tell him this at the time). 


While in hospital, MacDonald says a social worker stopped by to visit him. “They gave me these pamphlets and basically said, ‘Here’s how the rest of your life will be.’ They were doing their job and trying to be helpful, but I was like, ‘This isn’t my life. I’m going to recover.'” On a whiteboard in his hospital room, he wrote “I will” — words that became his mantra and grew into what is now Team I Will. 

“I just told myself, ‘I will get out of here, I will stand again, I will walk again,'” MacDonald says. Three years later, despite such low odds of even walking, MacDonald completed a half-marathon, then a marathon and he is now a part of #TeamCoast2Coast. 

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Cho’s spontaneous collapse 

Cho has a vastly different story than MacDonald. A former professional mountain biker, one would expect his spinal cord injury to have occurred in an accident on the trails, but that isn’t what happened at all. Instead, the Vancouver resident experienced a spontaneous epidural hematoma in January 2017 (five years after retiring from pro mountain biking), which means that a blood vessel inexplicably burst in his spinal cord. 

Cho’s neck felt stiff most of that day, but he didn’t think much of it until he went to dinner that night with some friends. He had to turn his whole body to look at his friends, and they urged him to go to the hospital. Cho decided that was a good idea, but he stopped by his apartment to change beforehand. 

“In that time, I noticed how cold my arms and legs were getting,” he says. “I jumped in bed to warm up a bit, but things were changing pretty rapidly at this point, and that cold in my limbs morphed into a numbness.” Growing more concerned, Cho began tapping his fingers to make sure he could control his hands. They were working fine, but out of nowhere, the left hand stopped. 


“At this point I knew I had to call 911,” Cho says. “I jumped up with my cell phone and fell to the floor. I tried to push myself up, but nothing moved.” He realized he could only move his head, so he used his chin to drag himself to his phone, which had luckily fallen to the floor as well. He made it and managed to call 911 with his tongue. 

Help arrived and took Cho to the hospital, where he was told that he had suffered a spinal cord injury and that he required surgery. While he assumed everything would go back to normal after his operation, that wasn’t the case, and it took Cho two weeks to regain just a bit of control in his wrists and legs. 

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He was transferred to a Vancouver rehab facility called GF Strong, where he spent 100 days relearning even the simplest of movements, like lifting a cup to take a sip of water. “I was starting from the ground up,” he says. “I quickly realized it wasn’t just walking that I would have to relearn — it was everything.” 

Slowly, though, Cho made progress, and he says “the little improvements never stopped.” Remarkably, 100 days later, he was able to walk out of GF Strong with arm crutches. This was in early April, and shortly after, the Wings for Life team reached out and asked if he would be open to joining them for the World Run in May. 

“The World Run format allows you to run as far as you’re able,” Cho says. “I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?'” He says he expected to hit one or two kilometres in the Wings for Life World Run, but he made it to 4.8K. That summer, he signed up for Vancouver’s SeaWheeze Half Marathon, and he completed it in 2:37. 

Since then, Cho has participated in the Wings for Life World Run twice more, and he made it almost 13K his last go around. 


This year, MacDonald and Cho will be back at it in the World Run, looking to help #TeamCoast2Coast make it across the country. The team first ran in 2018, and they missed the 5,500-kilometre goal both times (but just barely in 2019). While the World Run still went ahead last May, #TeamCoast2Coast decided to call their challenge off, as they didn’t want participants to gather in person due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

Wings for Life World Run
The Wings for Life World Run in 2016.

Now, with a year of pandemic running under our belts, the challenge is back, and Cho, MacDonald and the rest of #TeamCoast2Coast are hoping that this time they will reach and surpass 5,500 kilometres. 

“We would love the help of the community to help us reach this goal,” Cho says. MacDonald echoes this sentiment, and he encourages everyone to sign up for the run. Both men also note the most important part of this whole event, which is not to run across the country, but instead to raise as much money as possible for spinal cord research in Canada.

Every dollar raised will go toward funding various studies and research, which will help more people recover from spinal cord injuries, just like Cho and MacDonald did. To learn more about the Wings for Life World Run, click here