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Heinz Kinigadner: “Knowing that we are not alone is an incredible feeling!“

In 2015 and 2016 Heinz Kinigadner and his son Hannes started at the Wings for Life World Run in Munich. In 2017 they decided to go at it in Vienna and promptly managed to set a new personal best. Here Heinz Kinigadner, co-founder of Wings for Life, recaps May 7th once more.


Heinz, how are your legs feeling after the 12km in Vienna?

 (laughs) My feet are doing quite well. During the race my back hurt way more than my legs, because we forgot to raise the handlebars on Hannes’ wheelchair, which is why pushing his wheelchair was not as comfortable as I would have liked it to be… nevertheless we ran 1km further this year than we did the past few years. Considering the circumstances I am more than happy with that result.


How did you experience the start of the fourth Wings for Life World Run?

 It was an indescribably good feeling to see how many people in Vienna and worldwide support our idea and how much encouragement we got from everyone around us for working towards our goal of finding a cure for spinal cord injury. On this occasion I want to thank my good friend Dietrich Mateschitz with all my heart for his commitment and efforts regarding this project. Without his support we would not be where we are today!


How emotional was the race for Hannes and you?

 I am closely connected to the problem of spinal cord injury because of my brother who is sitting in a wheelchair since 1984 and my son Hannes who is sitting in a wheelchair since 2003. Against this backdrop it was an even greater and even more gripping experience to see how many people actually committed themselves to running for the good cause on that one day all across the globe – a moment that sent shivers down my spine all day long.


Who motivated you to go for a new personal best in 2017?

 For me it started getting tough very soon after the start, which is why Hannes had to start motivate me at an early stage… once we reached “Westbahnhof” where it went slightly uphill, I was running on empty. Luckily Hannes once again pushed me to keep going so I clenched my teeth yet again. I also have to say: When your son and your brother are sitting in a wheelchair, you surely don’t need any extra motivation to give it your best – but it has still helped me reach a new personal best (laughs).


You must have been relieved once the Catcher Car finally caught Hannes and you?

 In Vienna, once you had completed 11km you reached the start line once again. 500 metres before doing so, we ran into Marcel Hirscher, who was also pushing a wheelchair participant. He said the Catcher Car was close-by and just about to overtake us. I liked the idea of being caught by the Catcher Car on the finish line, which is why I kept Marcel’s company for a while. Then however, I spotted Anita Gerhardter in front of us thinking, I might still be able to catch her before (laughs) – and so I set out for one last sprint! A little later the Catcher Car finally caught Hannes and me at the 12km-mark. That was especially relieving, as it had started raining some time before that.


How did Hannes and you celebrate your performance?

 We first had to make sure that Hannes was feeling warm again. Due to the rain and the fact that we didn’t carry proper rain gear for him he was rather drenched after we finished the race. For a paraplegic with dysfunctional temperature regulation this is a problem you immediately have to take care of. After warming up in the hotel’s bath tub for an hour Hannes got rid of his shivers and we could get back down to the starting area to follow the race action and soak up the atmosphere.


Looking back on the event – what were some of your absolute highlights?

 Being cheered on and congratulated by so many people on the track was undoubtedly the most exciting thing of the event. Throughout the entire 12km people gave us the feeling that we are not alone, just like the entire event shows that we are not alone – that is an incredible feeling! On the other hand I had the feeling that the sport stars and VIPs on-site all were there out of pure conviction, wanting to support the good cause with a healthy does of humbleness, where you really felt: these stars were truly thankful for being physically healthy and able to give back. To me that was a great sight to see and I want to thank everyone involved for that!


As co-founder of Wings for Life: How satisfied are you with the evolution of the foundation since 2004?

 When I look at how our team works I am super happy! Our CEO, Anita Gerhardter, does an incredible job. With her and many of our staff you can see that this job is truly a calling to them. With regards to the current state of research I am positive about the fact that there are many promising projects going on at the moment. But I will only be happy, once the first patient is able to move his toes or fingers again thanks to a neurological success in research.


What makes you think positive as far as seeing this kind of progress soon is concerned?

 The fact that the leading heads of our funded research projects will come together in mid-May for a scientific meeting in Salzburg to discuss the progress made within their respective projects. As a matter of fact, the foundation for success has been put in place. Now it is time to keep working together towards a joint success to one day be able to reap the fruits of our work. I am still one hundred per cent convinced that we will find a cure for spinal cord injury: the question is not if, the question is when it will be found!

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