In a remarkable global race with no finish line, a total of 35,397 participants from around the world simultaneously ran in the first-ever Wings For Life World Run, a race dedicated to funding research to find a cure for spinal cord injury.
Global winners were Ethiopia’s Lemawork Ketema (Men’s Division) and Norway’s Elise Molvik (Women’s Division), who ran distances of 46.4 miles and 32.35 miles, respectively, before being caught by a “Catcher Car,” an innovative moving finish line that pursued the runners from behind, and upon passing them ended their race.
Runners of all levels from 164 nations made history as they synchronized their feet at 34 race locations in 32 countries on six continents and attempted to outrun the Catcher Car. Runners got a 30-minute head start on the car, which then began its pursuit of passing everyone at 9.3 mph. Every hour, the car sped up, first to 9.94 mph, then to 10.56 mph, then 12.43 mph, and finally 21.75 mph. The car stayed at 21.75 mph until the last participant had been passed.
In the U.S., runners outfitted in custom ASICS t-shirts kicked off the race in the early morning at three locations: Santa Clarita, California at 3 a.m. local time, Denver, Colorado at 4 a.m. local time, and in Sunrise, Florida at 6 a.m. local time. Prior to the start of the Santa Clarita race, the Walk and Roll Dance Team performed for the on-site participants and their supporters, and Australian singer/songwriter Kate Southwell, known to her fans as “Kada,” and also fiancé to World Run ambassador Barney Miller, sang the National Anthem.
U.S.A. Race Winners:
Santa Clarita, California – Calum Neff (34.56 miles) and Jeannie Rutherford (21.05 miles)
Denver, Colorado – Hunter Paris (32.7 miles) and Erlena Josifi (19.8 miles)
Sunrise, Florida – Michael Wardian (34.1 miles) and Haley Chura (26.93 miles)
"Not seeing the global runners, but knowing that they were right there with me in the race, I had to keep pushing myself and it came down to personal drive,” said Callum Neff about racing against global competitors, simultaneously. "I knew I had to get to the crest of the hill, and that if I did I could put a gap in it because at that point the race was head-to-head with Florida. That downhill portion that I worked so hard to get was what gave me that win today," he added.
As top U.S. finishers, Neff and Chura will choose anywhere in the world to run in next year’s Wings For Life World Run. Rutherford, Paris, Josifi and Wardian will select any U.S. location to run at next year. Confirmed cities for the May 3, 2015 race will be announced at a later date and fans are encouraged to sign up for updates at http://www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com/join.
Ketema and Molvik, the last male and female runners worldwide to be caught by the Catcher Car, received the top prize - an extraordinary month-long trip around the world, with stops in Salzburg, Istanbul, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Sydney, Fiji, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro.
In the wheelchair class, Tatyana McFadden, racing in Sunrise, was crowned global champion for being the last racer caught worldwide at the 11.3-mile mark. She has won 10 Paralympic medals and was the winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon women’s wheelchair race. Along with Sunrise, wheelchair races were also held in Austria, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
Wings for Life World Run Ambassadors, Barney Miller, Jesse Billauer, Cory Hahn, and Mark Pollock, were on-site in Santa Clarita supporting the racers, while a few chose to participate in the race, including Tamara Mena, Aaron Baker, Honza Rejmanek, and Nadia Gonzales.
Crossover Athletes in the Three U.S. Races:
Denver, Colorado – Football All-Pro DeMarcus Ware; snowboarder Louie Vito; skiers Nick Goepper, Bobby Brown, Chris Davenport, Grete Eliassen and Sarah Hendrickson; mountain biker Rebecca Rusch; ultra runner Karl Meltzer; and snowmobile stars Levi LaVallee and Jake Scott.
Sunrise, Florida – Track star and bobsledder Lolo Jones; wakeboarder Steel Lafferty; ultra marathon champion Michael Wardian; road cycle star Tim Johnson; Handball legend Timbo Gonzales; and Tatyana McFadden, a 10-time Paralympic medalist and winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon women’s wheelchair race.
Santa Clarita, California – America’s Cup champion skipper Jimmy Spithill; windsurfer Robby Naish; surfers Jamie O’Brien, Ian Walsh, Carlos Burle, and Maya Gabiera; waterman Kai Lenny; BMX riders Corey Bohan, Anthony Napolitan and Mike “Hucker” Clark; freestyle motocross stars Robbie Maddison and Ronnie Renner; and skateboarder Joey Brezinski.
The Wings for Life World Run was not a traditional 10K run, nor a marathon with a clear finish line. Across 13 time zones in day and night conditions, geo-synced GPS systems and RFID technology recorded the parallel global results, coordinated by 110 timekeepers with four tons of timing equipment for the 34 Catcher Cars. Worldwide, approximately 200 cameras and 34 television feeds brought the extravaganza to a world of supporters and spectators, friends and family.
Millions of people around the world are living with a spinal cord injury, and each year thousands more are traumatically injured – the main cause being traffic accidents. 100% of the registration fees from the World Run go directly to the Wings for Life Foundation to fund research to cure spinal cord injury.