Wings For Life raises awareness, funds for spinal cord injuries

SUNRISE Haley Chura has participated in so many different types of races, she's lost count. Sunday morning however, she competed in a race like no other.

Chura and 882 others ran in the inaugural Wings for Life World Run outside the BB&T Center.

The global race, which spanned 34 different locations in 32 countries, was the first of its kind. It featured a simultaneous start time across the world, a moving finish line and one common goal: to raise funds and awareness for spinal cord injury research.

With Sunrise selected as one of three locations in the United States to host the event, South Florida runners took to the course in the early morning hours to compete with athletes in different time zones. The global field ran until a car – referred to as the 'catcher car' – individually tracked them down, which meant there wasn't an official finish line, only a race against a car at each location.


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Chura, 28, finished seventh overall in the women's division worldwide, running 28.62 miles in just over three and a half hours. The Atlanta native, who swam collegiately at the University of Georgia, wasn't expecting to log that many miles, but the event's format called for it.

"I thought I was going to just run 10 or 12 miles, but every mile I was just thinking about how fortunate I was to be out there running," said Chura, a professional triathlete. "I think that's the whole thought of the race. You're out here running for people who can't."

Michael Wardin, the 2010 Miami Marathon champion, was the top man at the Sunrise location, totaling 35.88 miles. He finished 10th overall in the global men's competition, after leading the race for more than an hour before South Florida's heat took its toll.

The event, which drew over 35,000 participants worldwide, included track star Lolo Jones, who headlined the field at the Sunrise location. The three-time Olympian, who competed in two summer games as a hurdler, and at a winter games as a member of the U.S. bobsled team, jogged five miles before being caught by the catcher car.

Jones said her goal wasn't to win the race, but to support the cause, which she described as "near and dear to my heart." A 2011 spinal cord injury threatened Jones' career, which is why she got involved with Wings for Life.

"It's definitely a fresh concept and I think it's really cool," Jones said after the race. "It's thrown a lot of runners off, because they are used to a finish line or running X amount of miles."

Patrick Rummerfield, the world's first quadriplegic to regain full mobility, managed to jog three miles at the Sunrise location.

"Any inspiration or motivation I can give to those who aren't as fortunate as myself, is what it's all about," Rummerfield said.

The Woody Foundation, a Coral Gables based non-profit, also fielded a handful of runners. Woody Beckham injured his spinal cord in a college rugby accident three years ago, and it's been his mission ever since to help improve the lives of others with similar injuries, he said.

"We're just glad there is an event out there like this," Beckham said.

Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan said he hopes that they bring the event back to Sunrise. Organizers have not determined the host cities yet, only that the date of the 2015 Wings for Life World Run will be May 3, 2015.