On Sunday, May 8, the SuperSport Park in Centurion will play host to the local version of a global event: the Wings for Life World Run. 

The run takes place in 34 international locations simultaneously, on every continent except Antarctica. The run near Pretoria will be the only such race on the African continent.

Both the able-bodied and those in wheelchairs are encouraged to participate in the run, which will raise money for the Wings For Life 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, sports injury or a fall,” said a Wings for Life statement. “Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation with a single mission – finding a 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.”

Dries Millard, a Wings For Life World Run ambassador, is one of those dependent as a wheelchair.

An accomplished rugby player, he was still in high school when his life changed forever.

“Before I finished school, right after my third year playing for Boland at Craven Week, I was in a car accident that left me paralysed from the waist down,” Millard said. “T5 complete paraplegic. I was still in ICU when the U/18 Springbok coach approached me to ask when I will be ready to play again, as I was selected for the team. Sadly, I couldn’t play rugby again.”

He began to realise that life as a paraplegic wasn’t easy: the world wasn’t catered to someone in a wheelchair. However, he soon started surfing, and in 2011 took a surf coach course through Surfing South Africa – becoming the first qualified surf coach with a disability in the world.

To share surfing with other people with disabilities, Millard started a nonprofit organisation called Extreme Abilities. The nonprofit focuses on adaptive surfing, encouraging surfers with disabilities in South Africa and promoting surfing as a tool for rehabilitation. (Adaptive sports are competitive sports for people with disabilities. In adaptive sports, there may be modifications to equipment and rules to meet the needs of participants.)

According to Millard, Extreme Abilities aims to change people’s perspectives on disabilities and foster awareness by creating a platform through which those with disabilities can participate in adaptive sport.

“We don’t believe in handouts, but we do believe…experiencing something first-hand is the only way to see what it is like on the other side,” he said. “The liberation from riding a wave after being confined to a wheelchair is a glorious yet mesmerising. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself – outside the norm – to regain self-confidence after a life-changing trauma like a disability.”

They live by the motto “You are only as limited as you allow yourself to be.”

It’s true: in 2014, Extreme Abilities received a “Best Emerging Business” award form the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, and in 2015, Millard was a speaker at the first World Adaptive Surf Championship in California.

And now, he’s an ambassador for the Wings for Life World Run.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from entry fees for the run will go to the Wings For Life Foundation, which funds research projects to improve treatment for, and ultimately find a cure for, spinal cord injuries.

The run has no set distance. Instead, a catcher car follows participants, whose races end when the car overtakes them. This allows runners to set individual goals (with the help of a handy tool), or to run as far as they can.

The participant who runs the greatest distance will win the Wings for Life World Run crown – secured in 2015 by Lemawork Ketema, an Austrian-Ethiopian runner. He ran 79.9 kilometres, beating over 72 thousand runners worldwide.

For those interested in participating, the South African run will start at SuperSport Park at 283 West Avenue and South Street in Centurion. The entry fee for runners is R250, and the race begins at 13h00. Register for the event at http://www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com/za/en/pretoria/.

To learn more about Wings For Life, visit www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com or www.wingsforlife.com.

For more information about Extreme Abilities, visit www.extremeabilities.co.za or follow the organisation on Facebook.

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