We caught up with Wheelchair Sports Director Marc Herremans to find out what the Wings for Life World Run means to people who live every day with a spinal cord injury – and how your participation and donations can make all the difference.
What is it about the Wings for Life World Run that made you want to get involved?
When I was paralyzed in an accident in 2002, I knew I couldn’t let the spinal cord injury define me. The accident may have broken my back, but not my will – and I couldn’t let it break my dreams. So if I wanted to get out of my wheelchair, I needed to be ready for the cure.
Like me, the Wings for Life foundation has an absolute belief that a cure is possible. And its funding of more than 191 research projects in total (67 projects are currently funded), all focused on finding a cure, meant my getting involved with the foundation was almost inevitable.
Marc Herremans 2016 in Belgium. © Jan Opdekamp for Wings for Life World Run
Could you describe your experience of participating in the Wings for Life World Run in Belgium?
That was the first Wings for Life World Run back in 2014. What an experience! I wore high-tech braces to race alongside a young person who had been in a car accident. We were both caught after maybe 100 meters – but I thought it was really important to show people that we are all working for our future.
There were four wheelchair participants in Belgium in that first race, and last year there were 75 out there showing the world that, yes, people with spinal cord injuries can’t walk in most cases, but we are all in this together. We are all working to raise money for life-changing research, and it is vital that our bodies are fit when that cure is found.
How can people raise money for Wings for Life?
Well the obvious thing to do is join the Wings for Life World Run 2019. You can travel to somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, or you could run locally with the Wings for Life World Run App, either solo or in an Organized App Run. Have a look at the options on the website.
But you can also raise funds for spinal cord research during your training. Why not ask people to donate a small amount every time you go on a training session or for every kilometer you cover in the run up to May 5, 2019. Maybe instead of giving you a birthday present, your friends and family could donate to Wings for Life.
I give motivational talks that encourage people to overcome their challenges, but you could talk about something you’re passionate about or host a disco or a concert and charge for entry. Bake sales, coffee mornings, dressing-up parties and fashion shows are all great ways to raise money, too.
Starting a fundraising campaign is easy, just go to your personal profile page, share your story and ask friends and family to donate.
Where does the money raised go?
Everything raised – 100% of it – goes directly to the research projects and clinical trials supported by Wings for Life. And through them, I believe we’ll have a solution in the near future.
How does the Wings for Life World Run give hope to people with spinal cord injury?
From the outside looking in, spinal cord injury seems to be ‘just’ not being able to walk, but there are so many medical complications that affect our every-day lives. Most of the body functions I lost never returned. I had to learn to live with the fact that my bladder and bowels no longer work. My bodily functions cannot regulate warmth and cold anymore. Early on, I first got pneumonia, then a bladder infection. I really struggled with open sores on my skin. I was aware that my muscles would shorten in the long term, and I was suffering from unspeakable pain. The list is endless. The wheelchair is the smallest problem after a spinal cord injury.
Knowing Wings for Life believes 100% that it can find a cure for spinal cord injury motivates me more than you could ever imagine. Every step forward in the research is a victory and a promise of a better standard of life. It pushes me – and many people like me – to be healthy and ready for the future.
Marc with Wings for Life CEO Anita Gerhardter and Colin Jackson. © Joerg Mitter for Wings for Life World Run
How do you see Wings for Life-supported research projects changing lives?
In November 2018, a Wings-for-Life supported research and clinical study called STIMO (Stimulation Movement Overground) saw incredible results when three study participants regained their ability to control their muscles after several years of paralysis. The treatment combines two treatments: precise electrical stimulation of the spinal cord and intensive robot-assisted movement training. And it has established a new therapeutic framework to improve recovery from spinal cord injury.
Wow, that’s fantastic – how did you feel when you heard they could control their paralyzed muscles again?
Mind blown. It was incredible to see such a breakthrough: It’s clear we’re getting closer all the time and that walking again is entirely possible.
It motivated me to keep going, to stay active and continue training every day, so my body is fit and ready when the cure is found.
How does it feel to know Wings for Life World Run could be a large part of finding a cure for spinal cord injury?
It’s why I got involved with Wings for Life and the Wings for Life World Run in the first place. I believe that we have two hands for a reason: We need one to feed and help ourselves, and we need the other to help others. We all have a part to play. To know I’ll have helped a global community keep the hope alive and prepare themselves for the day the cure arrives will be indescribable.
Why is it so important that people take part in the Wings for Life World Run and support the foundation?
Doing something for someone else is good for the soul. Every person that joins the global movement will enjoy a deep satisfaction in knowing they are helping people who genuinely need their support.
The Wings for life Word Run is so much more than just a race – it brings hope for so many people all around the globe. I’ve done three hours of rehab every day, seven days a week, for years so I can be ready when a cure is discovered. And every person who takes part in the Wings for Life World Run gives millions of people who live with spinal cord injury to hope of a better, brighter future.
So sign up now for 2019’s Wings for Life World Run, so we can change lives and keep hope real.