Global fundraiser sets record as largest run in history

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Sandile Mkhize
 Record: 184,236 participants at the Wings for Life World Run
Event Participants
Never before have so many people taken part in a running event at the same time: at Sunday’s Wings for Life World Run, 184,236 participants from 195 nations ran for those who can’t. A total of 4.1 million euros was raised for spinal cord research through entry fees and donations. Sweden’s Aron Anderson (66,8 km) won the men’s competition for the third time after victories in 2017 and 2018, while Russia’s Nina Zarina (60.2 km) took her third consecutive title, following wins in 2019 and 2020. 

The runners and wheelchair users had covered an average 12,3 km in 2021 by the time the moving finish line caught and passed them. The beauty of the Wings for Life World Run is that everyone counts as a finisher. Mzansi also took to the streets to lend their voices to the cause, with nearly 2,000 South Africans across the country taking part in this year’s run.

2018 South African race winner Admire Muzopambwa topped the table with an outstanding 50.4km covered. Other local athletes and media personalities that took to the streets today included MotoGP wunderkind Brad Binder, 5FM lunchtime host Zanele Potelwa, loved YouTube couple Stephanie and Hungani Ndlovu and trail ultra runner Ryan Sandes. Sandes ran from the Mouille Point lighthouse to the Kommetjie lighthouse in Cape Town, finishing off with an impressive 35km. Wings For Life World Run local ambassadors Edwina Magkamatha and Sandile Mkhize didn’t miss out on the action – finishing on 4.8km and 3.7km respectively.

“I’m at a loss for words. The number of participants is so much bigger than what we dared to dream of. All I can say is thank you to each and every person who ran, walked or rolled with us today,” said Anita Gerhardter, CEO of the non-profit foundation Wings for Life. “Together, we’ve celebrated life today and raised an incredible amount to help find a cure for spinal cord injury.” The eighth edition of the Wings for Life World Run was a spectacular event that not only brought the global running community together, but also had a lot to offer as a race: Some ran alone, or in myriad small groups, across sun-scorched countries in central Europe, at times with snow-capped mountains in the background, while others were running along ocean shores in the dawn or dusk hours; and one woman was even spotted running through tall grass in Africa as giraffes looked on. Weather conditions in the 151 countries varied enormously, from cold rain in Ireland and Spain to snowfall in Norway and hot sunny weather in Greece.

The worldwide field of participants started off at exactly the same time at 11:00 UTC, but not at the same place. However, the runners and wheelchair users were connected virtually through the Wings for Life World Run App. That provided the basis for the special community experience that was enhanced with inspirational comments and messages from the drivers of the virtual Catcher Car, which began pursuit as a moving finish line 30 minutes after the runners’ start. Through the app, participants were able to experience that long-forgotten event feeling again.

“I am thrilled to hear that over 180,000 people around the world came together today to run for the good cause,” said Jon Ridgeon, CEO of World Athletics and former world-class athlete for Britain in the 110 meter hurdles, who heard confirmation of the largest run ever while in Tokyo. “It’s fantastic that with intelligent solutions like an app, a global event such as the Wings for Life World Run can happen during these challenging times. It’s a ray of light for all runners and athletes around the world, and I hope more such events will happen in the future to give people an opportunity to continue with their active lifestyles during the pandemic.”

From running novices to experienced ultra-runners, the starting field at the Wings for Life World Run was an eclectic mix of humanity. Everyone was eligible to enter: The unique race format made it possible for runners and wheelchair users with completely different ability levels to race together for a good cause. Since 2014, a grand total of 925,096 participants have taken part in the global charity run, 9,034,954 kilometers have been covered and 33.3 million euros have been raised. 100% of all entry fees and donations go directly to spinal cord research.

“For me as a person with a spinal cord injury, it’s truly amazing and gratifying that over 180,000 people decided to participate in the Wings for Life World Run to help researchers come closer to finding a cure,” said three-time winner Anderson of Sweden. “The race brings so much joy to my heart, and I really love being a part of it. I want to express my thanks to all the other runners today, because they are all contributing to an important cause. So thank you to everyone!”  The date for the ninth edition of the Wings for Life World Run has already been set. The next run will take place on May 8, 2022. Registration is already open. All results as well as information on how to register for the 2022 run can be found at   www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com

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