04/05/2018 11:04 SAST | Updated 04/05/2018 11:04 SAST

Wings For Life — Running To Find A Cure For Spinal Cord Injury

"The race is bigger than myself," said Landie Greyling, last year's SA female winner.

Wings For Life

On Sunday, tens of thousands of runners across the world, including South Africa, will take part in the global Wings for Life world run — an event that raises funds for spinal cord research, with the single mission to find the cure for spinal cord injury.

The race, which is open to able-bodied and athletes with disabilities, encourages people who can to "run for those who can't", and 100 percent of the race entry fee goes towards the research fund.

In 2017, €6.8-million [~R103-million] was raised, with runners from 189 nationalities running a total of 1,431,183km.

The format of the race is unique, in that runners race against a catcher car and not towards a set finish line, which means that you can enter as a beginner, or an ultra-marathon runner aiming to take the national and global medal.

HuffPost spoke to last year's female winner, Landie Greyling. She was caught just after the 37km mark — and being the last woman still on the course in Pretoria on May 7 last year, it made her the SA champion.

As a seasoned runner, with wins including the Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km as well as iconic runs abroad like the Grand Raid Pyrenees in France and Dodo Trail in Mauritius, Greyling said running for Wings for Life is vastly different.

"It's bigger than myself, than my passion for running. Here you're running with wheelchair participants, friends and families of people who have been directly or closely affected by spinal cord injury, so it's far greater than yourself. That sense of achievement after running is like a service to the world."

She said ever since participating in the race in 2016, she's been made much more conscious of how privileged she is as an able-bodied athlete.

"I think it's easy to take things for granted when you're generally healthy. But with this race, I have really pushed myself and challenged my body beyond the limits I thought it had. I always think, I'm doing this for someone who wishes to run but is affected by spinal cord injury, and hopefully, a cure will one day be found."

You do not need to be personally affected by something before you can do your bit to make a change.

Greyling has encouraged South Africans to take part in races like these.

"The race is not about you or how far you can run. I mean you can walk, you can do a short 5km and more importantly, 100 percent of the proceeds go to research. You do not need to be personally affected by something before you can do your bit to make a change," she concluded.

While the South African leg will be run from Pretoria this year, Greyling will be racing from Vienna, Austria.