Courtesy of Red Bull Newsroom
The champion triathlete shares insights on competition, life in a wheelchair, and his role as Sports Director Wheelchair for the Wings for Life World Run.
Former triathlete Marc Herremans of Belgium was paralyzed from the chest down in a fall. Despite having his life turned completely upside down, four years later he won his division of the Ironman World Championship. Today, Marc – who has been knighted for his inspirational attitude and commitment to others – is the Sports Director Wheelchair for the Wings for Life World Run.
Marc, why did you get involved with the Wings for Life World Run in the first place?
When I found out I was paralyzed from the chest down, it was like I was born in a new life. I went from almost being a world champion to having to learn how to do even the most basic everyday tasks. But I started doing rehab and training, because I had a new goal: to walk someday. When I heard about Wings for Life, I realized I wasn’t alone – that they shared my dream and were working toward the day when people in wheelchairs will walk again. Wings for Life is focused on medical research for spinal cord injury, and I thought, “This event is great.”
And how did your interest evolve into the role of Sports Director Wheelchair?
I competed in the Wings for Life World Run in Belgium and was a country Ambassador before becoming the Sports Director Wheelchair globally toward the end of last year. It’s about everything I love: the joy from people on the course, running, building spinal cord injury awareness, and the fact that 100% of funds raised goes directly to research.
Can you describe what you do in this position? In this race, the wheelchair participants use a daily wheelchair, and as sports director I look at factors like the tracks, fairness and safety, especially with wheelchairs in mind.
Have you seen growing interest in the Wings for Life World Run from wheelchair users? Every year, more and more people in wheelchairs compete. Not to be the winner, but to be part of an event to find a cure for spinal cord injury. It’s about raising awareness, and I think it’s also because of an evolution in attitudes and fitness levels. When I got paralyzed in 2002, everybody said, “You’re not going to walk again. It’s finished.” Now people in wheelchairs say, “We have to rehabilitate ourselves. Eventually, when there’s a medical trial, we’ll be healthy and can jump in.”
And does participating and donating to Wings for Life World Run really make a difference?
Absolutely! As I mentioned, 100% of entry fees and donations goes directly to spinal cord research. That will have an impact far beyond what most people realize, because not being able to walk is the least difficult part of spinal cord injury. There are lots of other medical issues, and a large number of people in wheelchairs have so many health problems that their quality of life is very low. Especially when I see young kids in that situation, it’s terrible. That’s why it’s important to donate.
You were so successful as an athlete, before and after injury. Do you miss competing?
I’ve learned that, for me, there’s something that’s much more important. I like that famous quote: “You have two hands, one to help yourself and one to help others.”
Is that another reason why you’re so dedicated to the Wings for Life World Run?
This race means so much to me. This is just one day, but we are in a wheelchair 365 days a year. In the Wings for Life World Run, we are focused on the future. Whether we’re in a wheelchair or running, we’re all in the same race, fighting for a solution.
About the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation
Worldwide, millions of people are dependent on a wheelchair after having sustained a spinal cord injury, most often as the result of a traffic accident or a fall. Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation with the single mission to find the cure for spinal cord injury. Since 2004, Wings for Life has funded life-changing research projects and clinical trials around the globe. While the cure is still to be found, steady progress has been made. One hundred percent of the Wings for Life World Run entry fees and fundraising from this global running event will help work toward Wings for Life’s ultimate goal. Every step taken at the Wings for Life World Run and with the Wings for Life World Run App is a step in the right direction – http://www.wingsforlife.com
About the Wings for Life World Run
On one day each year the Wings for Life World Run is held simultaneously in numerous locations and the App across the world, all starting at the same time, whether day or night, and all with the same goal – to raise money for the Wings for Life Foundation. Under its unique format, participants run as far as they can until they are passed by a moving finish line, the “Catcher Car,” which chases runners along the course, gradually getting faster until each runner has been caught. This moving finish line allows participants of any ability to complete the run – the slower ones are passed early while the last man and woman to be caught after starting from an event location are declared Wings for Life World Run Champions. 100% of entry fees and donations goes toward helping to find a cure for spinal cord injury; and in just three years since it was launched in 2014, the World Run has attracted more than 280,000 people from 193 nationalities to run in more than 38 countries across six continents. Altogether they have raised €13.8 million euros while covering more than 2.8 million kilometres.
The Wings for Life World Run App The Wings for Life World Run App allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to join the global movement, even if they are not able to get to one of the event locations. By activating the App on his or her phone, a runner can take part in the Wings for Life World Run, chased by a virtual Catcher Car, at the same time as all the other Wings for Life World Runners around the globe.
The Wings for Life World Run is proud to be supported by Puma and BF Goodrich.