Happiness everywhere. Smiling faces. Cheering crowds – what a gigantic spectacle that was! For the 10th time, thousands of people around the globe ran for those who can’t at the Wings for Life World Run. And the anniversary broke all records: 206,728 participants worldwide set off at the same time, running either individually with the Wings for Life World Run App or together in several Flagship Runs. More than ever before, this made it the biggest running event in the world once again.
After the race, the global female winner Katarzyna Szkoda (POL) who ran at the Flagship Run in Poznań, Poland, was overwhelmed:
“This feeling is sensational! I had information on the route that I was the first here in Poznań, later that I was first woman globally, but somehow it didn’t quite reach me. I guess I need some time to process that.”
Male winner Jo Fukuda has won the Wings for Life World Run for the second time. “I injured myself two months ago and couldn’t practice enough – so I could tell it was going to be a tough race. But I had a very strong will to win again, and that pushed me to keep going,” he said after the race.
“The Wings for Life World Run is a very special event for me because I can give courage and impact others in a positive way with something I love – running.”
But what about the female star of the earlier Wings for Life World Runs? Four-time global winner Nina Zarina ran at an App Run Event in San Francisco. And she wasn’t running alone, either: Nina is pregnant, she’s expecting a baby boy in September. Nevertheless, there’s no way she was going to miss out on this year’s Wings for Life World Run: “It’s a rare race that focuses not on individual accomplishments but on the idea of helping others through your personal achievement.”
And in fact, time or distance didn’t matter at all – it was all about the fun and the spirit of everybody coming together for a good cause, with 100% of all entry fees and donations going directly to spinal cord research.
And here, too, the 10th Wings for Life World Run marks a milestone: Through entry fees and donations, 5.8 million euros have been collected this year alone.
“The Wings for Life World Run acts like a turbo for spinal cord research. With the money raised, we have already been able to help several projects make the leap into the clinics to be tested with patients who have sustained spinal cord injuries. This in itself is a great success, and we’ll see even greater progress in the future,” said Anita Gerhardter, CEO of Wings for Life.
After the race, she was very emotional: “Now I’m totally overwhelmed, I am happy beyond words and I am so proud of everyone who helped us to make this happen. Today, 206,728 world runners walked, ran and rolled and raced the amount of 5.8 million euros. And having felt the World Run vibes here in Vienna I know for sure that we will have the power to find a cure for spinal cord injury. If so many people join forces we will make that happen. So a heartfelt thank you to each and every one who was part of this race today. Thank you so much. And next year, May 5th, it would be great to see all of you at the start line again.”
This year, Scientific Director of Wings for Life Dr Jan Schwab was himself participating. He said: “I like running. And this run is of particular concern to me. It creates awareness for people who have to live with a spinal cord injury.” Research is expensive, Dr Schwab explains. The millions raised by the Wings for Life World Run every year is “important money and enables Wings for Life not only to fund a larger number of projects but also to conduct clinical studies that are more expensive. The run is good news for research.” And he adds:
“On behalf of the many scientists who have received funding and on behalf of the entire field of research: I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all participants.”
It is truly a beautiful mission, and more international stars than ever before actively participated in this year’s anniversary run. For instance, in Munich, the Catcher Car at the Flagship Run was steered by Formula 3 racing driver Sophia Flörsch and Olympic track cycling champion Kristina Vogel. While in Vienna, two-time Olympic snowboard champion Anna Gasser was in the cockpit, in Poland former ski jumper Adam Małysz, rally drivers Juraj Sebalj and Jeka Cevec in Croatia and Slovenia, and Swiss freerider Maxime Chabloz in Zug.
And two of the biggest pop stars of the 1990s were motivating app runners in the UK and the United States, respectively: Geri Horner, formerly known as “Ginger Spice” Geri Halliwell, and Lance Bass, actor and singer in legendary boyband NSYNC. Their voices could be heard within the unique Audio Experience of the Wings for Life World Run App.
Many stars were taking part themselves, too: Alpine skiing overall world champion and two-time world champion Marco Odermatt was among runners in Switzerland, alongside singer Seven and Youtuber AdiTotoro. In Norway, Olympic champion Karsten Warholm joined the crowds, in Munich rally world champion Sébastien Ogier and in Brazil, racing driver Felipe Fraga. In Slovenia, singer and former Miss World candidate Rebeka Dremelj was running. The list of famous names who are helping to find a cure for spinal cord injury in their support for the 10th Wings for Life World Run seems to be an endless one: Olympic beach volleyball champion Christian Sørum, football hero Trent Alexander-Arnold, surfing legend Björn Dunkerbeck, skateboard star Leticia Bufoni, Olympic surfing silver medallist Kanoa Igarashi, rally champion Abdo Feghali, waterski pro Nikolas Plytas in Athens and Olympic high jump gold medallist Mutaz Essas Barshi. Pole vault champion Armand Duplantis ran in Lafayette in Louisiana, cricket star Chirag Suri took part, as well as Ireland's No. 1 mountain bike rider Greg Callaghan, Canadian snowboarder Sébastien Toutant, Italian former skiing champion Dominik Paris, Colombian cliff diver Orlando Duque, US pro wakeboarder Meagan Ethell, Japanese ultrarunner Ruy Ueda, BMX street riding champion Courage Adams, South African para athlete Brandon Beack in Cape Town and the whole Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team.
The secret hero of the 10th Wings for Life World Run participated in Croatia: 91-year-old Roko Andabaka. Having run all ten Wings for Life World Runs, Roko always gets extra motivation boosts from his hardcore fans – fellow residents from his retirement home. He ran exactly one kilometres before the Catcher Car passed him.
At the top, of course, there was much more action, and the runners were much faster. In the men’s race, there was no clear favourite for long periods. The lead kept changing between the three top finishers. Shortly before the final, it even looked as if Darius Nozynski (POL) and not Jo Fukuda (JPN) would win the race. In Japan, Fukuda, who had started as the favourite, also had to fight heavy rain, but in the end he was able to win by a few hundred metres. The women’s race was similarly exciting until Katarzyna Szkoda (POL) was able to pull away. Before that, a really fast trio battled it out. In the meantime Dominika Stelmach (POL) had her nose just in front but Veronika Mutsch (AUT), who came second in the end, put the eventual winner under pressure in a tight head-to-head.
Do you want to join this amazing running community again next year, or even for the first time? The 11th edition of the Wings for Life World Run will take place on May 5, 2024. Registration opens later this year. Participants can set a reminder at www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com/locations