A year after his emotional virtual-reality experience of the Wings for Life World Run, 44-year-old Michael Wiese is going to take part in the huge global race – he’ll be at the starting line – standing on his own legs.
Getting goosebumps at the Wings for Life World Run is not unusual. But for Michi Wiese, being part of the global run was not what he was expecting to do just a year after severely injuring his spinal cord at a football tournament. But on May 7, 2017, the triathlete and Tough Mudder runner stood on Munich’s start line alongside his ultrarunner friend Moritz auf der Heide. Only, Michi was on a sofa in Hamburg and wearing a virtual reality headset.
‘Are you ready, Michi? We’re about to start.’ The starter gun sounded. And the emotion hit Michi: ‘Wow, I’m running. I’m getting goosebumps. It feels like I’m running myself.’
For the passionate athlete – who knew something wasn’t right as soon as the accident happened, saying, ‘Help me, I’m paralyzed’ – feeling like he was running again was overwhelming: ‘Wow, I’m blown away. This is unreal. Amazing!’
In Munich, when people saw Moritz carrying the camera, they waved and cheered at Michi, and he felt the love, enthusiasm and motivation through the VR headset. He joined Moritz through fields, along country roads and even though it was raining, it didn’t bother Michi one bit.
Posters along the route shouted, ‘Keep fighting, Michi’, ‘Keep going!’, cheering him on as if he really was there. But the moment that choked Michi most was seeing his dearest friend, Tommy, who hasn’t left his side and was at his hospital bed in Holland for two full days after the accident.
Michi was truly part of the Wings for Life World Run. He felt the incredible atmosphere and spirit … and he squeezed at the legs that once carried him through the Tough Mudder and triathlons. Legs that no longer worked.
Then he heard something behind him. On his sofa, Michi turned around in his VR headset to see the Catcher Car closing in: ‘Moritz, the Catcher Car is coming!’
At the end of the race, inspired by his VR experience, Michi made a promise to himself: In 2018, he would stand alongside Moritz in Munich on May 6 to take part in the Wings for Life World Run.
"My hope to walk again motivated me to sign up to the Wings for Life World Run in 2018. Hope is a powerful force! More than anything, I'm looking forward to the atmosphere, to being there live – not just sitting on the sofa, watching.”
He knows he won’t cover the 30km he went with Moritz in 2017, but he doesn’t care. He’ll go as far as he can alongside Moritz – even if that means that he’ll join, only a few meters.
“I know he feels he’s only made a little progress, but I think it’s amazing how independent he’s becoming again, and I can’t wait to see him."
Michi is looking forward to seeing Moritz, too, but it’s the Catcher Car he’s most excited about. That moment the Catcher Car passes him will hold all joy and exhilaration that he felt a year ago with the VR headset.
He’s running with all his heart to raise money for spinal cord research, so, one day, there is a cure for spinal cord injury, and he can walk again.