The wheelchair races

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Worldwide there were four wheelchair races as part of the Wings for Life World Run - in Austria, Brazil, the US and UK. Here's what happened.

Hannes Kinigadner, was out there competing in the wheelchair race in Austria on 4 May: “I knew I would be caught very early. My motivation to participate, though, was not the competition itself, but to support this great event. In my opinion, if there are so many running for the spinal cord injury community, it is important that we were also there, taking part.”

There were two different race concepts. In Austria and the USA, athletes  were chased by Catcher Cars, as in the runners’ race, until the last man and woman in each location were passed. In the UK and Brazil, athletes chased a Catcher Car until the first athlete overtook the car, then all athletes raced back to the start/finish line.

Hannes, who has only limited use of his hands and arms, was the first person to be caught by the Catcher Car, after the 1km mark: ‘As I raced in a normal wheelchair, where I knew I could go around 4 km/h and the Catcher Car started 15 minutes behind me at 45 km/h, it was not difficult to calculate.’

The sun shone on the races in Austria and the UK, but Brazil and USA started early in the morning, with the USA racers even battling against the rain as well as the Catcher Car. Covering an incredible 17.3km, Tatyana McFadden beat the rest of the field in Florida and went further than all other wheelchair racers globally. Nicknamed Beast by friends because of her astonishing strength, she was the youngest member of the Athens track and field Paralympic team, where she won two silver medals ... and she hasn't looked back.

The UK winner, Justin Levene, heard about the race from McFadden, “So I checked it out and signed up – I’ve never done a race like it, so thought I’d give it a go! It’s so important to wheelchair athletes to be on a level playing-field with the able-bodied competitors. Our race was in exactly the same place, and it felt like we were equals, which was really important. Being chased by a car or chasing a car was a really fun idea and a unique event.”

Levene has used a wheelchair for the last five years, but only came to racing about ten months ago: “You just try to get on with things, and you just adjust to the new life that you’re in. So I’ve being throwing myself completely into sport. You just have to make the best of it. You have to let go of quite a few things, including your previous life. It’s about acceptance really.”

Like McFadden, as national winner, Levene will get to choose which country he wants to race in next year: “South America or Australia or a place like that. I would love to go to somewhere completely inaccessible for me normally to go to, like New Zealand.” But what he does know for sure is that he’ll be back out there again, supporting the cause.

“I’d love to be able to walk again. I think it’s probably quite far off, but we just need to have more funding put into it, and something like this, which is going to increase funds into research, will definitely help.”

A huge Thank you from Wings for Life to all participants for your great support!