Wings for Life World Run & International SCI Day: Raising awareness of spinal cord injury

May 7th, 2023 is a very special anniversary. It will celebrate the 10th Wings for Life World Run, when people around the globe come together to run for those who can’t. The impact is even greater, however. Just like International Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Day on September 5th, the Wings for Life World Run is dominated by raising awareness of spinal cord injuries and their consequences. After all, it is about far more than being unable to walk.


The starting gun was fired on May 5th, 2014 – and it had two distinct effects: the Wings for Life World Run was held for the first time, and the event also set a success story in motion for spinal cord research. When the 10th Wings for Life World Run takes place on May 7th, 2023, a total of over 40 million euros will have been raised, enabling Wings for Life to fund major clinical studies. As Wings for Life International CEO Anita Gerhardter explains:

“The Wings for Life World Run has achieved so much progress. And it has also created a huge amount of awareness for all those people who have to live with a spinal cord injury.”

Spinal Cord Injury Day

Two years after the first Wings for Life World Run, the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) declared September 5th as the day that would focus on people with a spinal cord injury and increase public awareness. Spinal Cord Injury Day aspires to communicate that a spinal cord injury means far more than being unable to walk. SCI individuals to deal with psychological, social and work-related problems as well.

The aim of SCI Day is therefore to create awareness of inclusion, equal opportunities and accessibility, and consequently offer hope to SCI individuals, their family members and friends.

Hope brings people together

It is this hopeful perspective that forms such a close bond between International SCI Day and Wings for Life. The Wings for Life Foundation supports cutting-edge international research to find a cure for paraplegia. In order to get necessary donations, the Wings for Life World Run takes place annually. It reaches and connects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, even those who are unable to take part in the official routes: an app allows people to get involved in the Run all over the world, wherever they happen to be.

The Wings for Life World Run also launched an annual charity event that enables everyone to support the foundation directly, as the entry fees are donated in full to spinal cord research.

Unforgettable moments

Anita Gerhardter likes to look back on the highlights from previous runs: “The starting gun being fired for the very first Wings for Life World Run in 2014 is definitely one of them. For 18 months we had been working flat out in pursuit of a vision. And so it was very emotional to see how thousands upon thousands of people around the world came together for the Run.” Another moment in 2019, when David Mzee walked across the starting line by himself instead of sitting in a wheelchair, is among numerous unforgettable memories, says Gerhardter.

“He has a spinal cord injury, and a study funded by us enabled him to stand up and walk again.”

Just like SCI Day, year after year the Wings for Life World Run raises global awareness of spinal cord injuries – because we still have far too little knowledge of spinal cord injury and its consequences. There is still a lot to learn. For all of us.

Spinal cord injury & the Wings for Life World Run – Facts & figures

  • at least 250,000
    … additional spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis occur every year, according to WHO.
  • 2 to 5 times
    … is the increase in the mortality risk following a spinal cord injury.
  • 85%
    … of people with a spinal cord injury who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later.
  • 50%
    … of all spinal cord injuries are caused by traffic accidents.
  • 24%
    … of spinal cord injuries with serious consequences are fall-induced.
  • The fourth most frequent reason
    … for spinal cord injury leading to paralysis is a diving accident.
  • 161,892
    … participants from 192 countries took part in the Wings for Life World Run in 2022.
  • 920
    … of these were in a wheelchair.
  • 5,836
    … people in wheelchairs completed the previous nine Wings for Life World Runs.
  • 1,086,988
    … people in total have taken part since the first race in 2014.
  • 11.9 kilometres
    … on average were covered by participants in the 2022 Wings for Life Run.
  • 4.7 million
    … euros were raised at the Wings for Life World Run in 2022.
  • 38.3 million
    … euros in total have been raised by the Wings for Life World Runs since 2014.