In 2003, two-time Motocross World Champion Heinz Kinigadner and his wife Waltraud learned that their 19-year-old son Hannes had been badly hurt at a charity motorcycle event, resulting in paralysis from the neck down. The tragic accident sparked the founding of Wings for Life. Over the years, the Kinigadners have been open in sharing their emotional journey and their hope for the future. Here, Heinz and Hannes discuss their excitement about the latest progress in research and their appreciation for the Wings for Life World Run.
Already more than 500,000 people from 193 nationalities have participated in the Wings for Life World Run! In its first year, did you ever imagine where the event would be today, with a sixth edition coming up in 2019?
Hannes: No, that was not predictable. However, it was overwhelming to see how many people already joined in the first year, standing behind the Wings for Life foundation and their vision of finding a cure for spinal cord injury!
Heinz: Actually, I did imagine it. Because everybody knows someone, somewhere, who is affected.
What moves you when you think about the run?
Hannes: That there are so many people joining in, and it just keeps growing. The spirit the runners have on event day is also very moving. People even laugh and sing while running – they are all participating together in a good mood.
Heinz: To know that so many people are joining us and that they understand why we are doing this gives me goosebumps.
What was it like to organize your own App Run in Ibiza last year?
Hannes: It was a cool experience! It was also more work than expected, but there is enough information and support on the Wings for Life World Run website to help you. Then, when you're at the start and you’ve gotten other runners to join you, and it's a cool location, it's definitely worth it!
What are your tips for people who want to set up an Organized App Run for 2019?
Hannes: Just do it! Initially, I would try to make a smaller App Run with some friends. If you like it, the next step could be to organize a bigger App Run.
What are your personal goals for the 2019 edition?
Hannes: There will definitely be the App Run in Zillertal [Austria], where we live, again. In addition, we’re currently planning another Organized App Run for Ibiza.
During all the years since the accident, and all your hard work to raise awareness for the foundation and the Wings for Life World Run, have you ever lost hope?
Hannes: I’ve never lost hope so far. Of course, there are stressful times when you need a long breath. But then, when interesting research projects are coming in or events like the Wings for Life World Run, where so many people are involved, this really pushes you! There is a lot going on in research at the moment, and huge progress is being made!
Heinz: Hope has never left us, but since we’re coming from motorsports, where it’s all about seconds [on the clock], it can be grueling to see what lengthy procedures such research projects require! But right now it’s a very exciting time, where great projects are in clinical trials and first results are very promising!
What are your visions for this truly global movement?
Hannes: Ideally, there will be even more participants, which will allow us to support more projects and get ahead in the research more quickly.
Heinz: To see 1,000,000 people running together, standing up for this great cause.
As you look toward the sixth annual run, where do you see the event in another six years?
Hannes: Definitely with me still participating! And ideally running – literally – in the event, but for another cause, because we’ve found solutions for people with spinal cord injury and I'm no longer in a wheelchair!
Heinz: As the world’s greatest running event, and with affected people who are still in a wheelchair right now running together with us.