© Roman Rudakov for Wings for Life World Run
8 things you’ll hear in the Beyond the Ordinary Wings for Life podcast
Beyond the Ordinary dives into the Wings for Life World Run and hears the remarkable stories of those whose lives have been transformed both by spinal cord injury and the latest cutting-edge research.
Steven Dowd and Sam Bloom are just two people whose lives changed in an instant after accidents left them paralysed with spinal cord injury.
In an emotive listen both relive their accidents, the hope they have since been given and their lives today, while the origins of the remarkable foundation are also discussed.
Below are eight things we discovered in the 26-minute special episode:
1. A cycling commute changed Steven Dowd’s life in a flash
Steven Dowd was on his regular bike ride to his city job in London back in 2016 when he struck an unseen barrier, went over the top of his handlebars and landed heavily face first into the ground.
Trying to check if he was OK, he quickly realised something was very wrong: “My hands didn’t move. At that point, I panicked. I felt like I was being strangled. I was living my life second by second.”
2. The Wings for Life Foundation gave him hope
When being treated in a London hospital, he was dealt the blow that he was paralysed from the neck down after suffering a crushed and bent spinal cord. The doctors informed him he might not get any feeling back at all let alone have aspirations to walk again. But, while he was at his lowest point, a clinical experimental research trial funded by Wings for Life gave him hope.
3. Undeterred, he gave himself a 200-day deadline to learn to walk
It took just 10 minutes for Dowd to say yes to the surgery proposed to him and, waking up from the operation, he turned to his wife and told her he'd set the target of walking on Christmas Day, a little over 200 days away.
That became what he called his “daily motivation” and, with his family gathered at his home, he duly carried in the Christmas turkey from the kitchen. His initial thought was, “Oh my god, don’t drop it”. Thankfully, he didn’t.
4. Told she would never walk again, Sam Bloom thought her life was over
On holiday with her family in Thailand, Sam Bloom fell through a rotten bannister, dropping six metres onto the concrete floor below. Initially, she was told it was spinal shock and would wear off.
But meeting another doctor, she recalled: “I asked him would I ever walk again and he was so blunt, ‘no, you’ll never walk again’. I pulled the sheet over my head and burst into tears. I wish I’d died. As far as I was concerned, my life was over.”
5. She has defied medical experts to become a surfing world champion
Determined to keep active, two weeks after being discharged from hospital she partly regained her freedom with kayaking on a lake 15 minutes from home. In time, that transferred to representing Australia in paracanoe.
By 2015, she had switched to adaptive surfing and duly competed at the World Championships, an event she won.
6. Both have taken to the Wings for Life World Run start line
The pair of them have become entrants in the annual Wings for Life World Run, which this year takes place virtually at 11am UTC on May 9 all over the world through an app.
Dowd first took part in 2019, the first time he had run since his accident. Having no idea how far he might travel, after a few tentative jogging steps which he said “wasn’t fast and wasn’t pretty”, he reached 7km before being caught by the Catcher Car. This year’s target is 8k.
7. When did the Wings for Life World Run start?
Their respective recoveries and those of many others have been aided by the Wings for Life Foundation and also the €29million raised by the Wings for Life World Run, all with the aim of finding a cure for spinal cord injury.
It came into being when Hannes Kinigader suffered his own spinal cord injury and his father, two-time motocross world champion Hans, started thinking about what could be done.
Taking up the story, Wings for Life CEO Anita Gerhardter explained: “Leading neurologists travelled to Salzburg to explain if there was a glimmer of hope or if this injury was a lifelong sentence. Experts said there was a legitimate prospect of finding a cure, the only thing lacking was money. So, in 2004 the foundation was born.”
8. How you can help find a cure for spinal cord injury
Sign up and take on the catcher car! The Wings for Life World Run is perfect for runners of all levels, as you're not running towards a fixed distance, but being chased by a virtual catcher car.
When signing up to participate, the non-profit foundation will dedicate 100 percent of your entry fee to research to find a cure for spinal cord injury. As Gerhardter explains: “The more projects we can finance, the more hope we have to find a cure for spinal cord injury.”