Record-breaking boost for spinal cord research: 265,818 participants unite in the Wings for Life World Run, reaffirming its status as the largest running event in the world

In the 2024 edition of the largest running event in the world, the runners and wheelchair users covered an average of 11.5km each, for a total distance equivalent to nearly 50 times around the globe. Yet what they celebrated more than times or distances was the fun and spirit of joining together for a good cause. A new single-year record of 8,104,499 euros was raised, and as always 100% goes directly to promising research projects and clinical trials supported by the not-for-profit Wings for Life foundation in the quest to find a cure for spinal cord injury.

May 5, 2024 – Running for those who can’t. For the 11th time, this mantra united the world, as over a quarter of a million professional athletes, fun runners and total beginners around the globe participated in the Wings for Life World Run. A record 265,818 participants of 192 nationalities set off simultaneously in 169 countries, running, walking or rolling to keep ahead of a moving finish line called the Catcher Car. Tomoya Watanabe of Japan set an all-time record for the event by reaching 70.09km as the men’s winner, while Poland’s Dominika Stelmach achieved 55.02km in claiming the women’s title for the second time. But among the many benchmarks set across the day, the most important was the life-changing potential of the record fundraising that every participant helped to achieve.

Wings for Life CEO Anita Gerhardter said, “When people join forces, incredible things happen! 265,818 World Runners from around the globe walked, ran, rolled and raised over 8.1 million euros for spinal cord research. Together, we have the power to rewrite medical history and find a cure for spinal cord injury. A huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone – World Runners, to the team and all volunteers and partners – who helped to create magic today. If you enjoyed the Wings for Life World Run as much as I did, I hope to see you at the start line again on May 4, 2025.”

Worldwide, participants ran individually with the Wings for Life World Run App or came together at one of 345 App Run Events (another record), which were held at stunning locations like the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City (MEX), the Bois de Vincennes in Paris (FRA), Expo City in Dubai (UAE) and the bayfront in Miami (USA). Others took part in one of the seven Flagship Runs held in Vienna (Austria), Munich (Germany), Zug (SUI), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Zadar (Croatia), Poznań (Poland) and Breda (NED) – all of them joined by numerous high-profile sports professionals, artists and influencers.

For instance, in Vienna, Austria, the Catcher Car at the Flagship Run was driven by two-time Olympic snowboard champion Anna Gasser, while in Poznań, ski jumping legend Adam Małysz was in the cockpit. In the unique Audio Experience of the Wings for Life World Run App, runners in each country heard a local celebrity driver of the Virtual Catcher Car encouraging them, such basketball’s Gigi Datome (ITA) and triathlete Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR).

Many stars were running themselves, such as Greek tennis pro Stefanos Tsitsipas, who participated with the App as part of his training in Monte Carlo. Just a few of the other famous names who were helping to find a cure for spinal cord injury with their support for the run included football’s Neymar Jr (BRA), rugby’s Siya Kolisi (RSA), MotoGP’s Marc Márquez (ESP) and Dani Pedrosa (ESP), surfing’s Carissa Moore (USA), cycling’s Wout van Aert (BEL), cricket’s Ben Stokes (GBR), skiing’s Lindsey Vonn (USA) and Lucas Pinheiro Braathen (NOR/BRA), and hurdler Karsten Warholm (NOR).

While the run is a fun day out where participants of every level set their own goals, on the sporting side, yet another record fell. When Japan’s Jo Fukuda, who had been the men’s winner in the past two outings, failed to find the pace, his countryman Tomoya Watanabe made his own mark for Japan at the App Run Event in Fukuoka. After surpassing second place Guillaume Ruel of France and third place Valentin Poncelet of Belgium, Watanabe found yet another kick to achieve 70.09km, breaking the all-time record for the event and also becoming the first ever to pass the 70km mark.

“We started the race at a fast pace – the leading group was really, really fast – but that kept me going. Wanting to beat the record was a big motivation also,” Watanabe said. “Winning this race today means a lot to me, and I will keep running and be ready for the event next year!”

The women’s competition saw a thrilling showdown between long-time sporting rivals Dominika Stelmach of Poland and Nataša Šustić of Croatia, as well as eventual third place finisher Ingalena Schömburg-Heuck of Germany. In a remarkable return to the top, Stelmach – who was women’s Global Champion back in 2017 – kept pushing even after Šustić finished, to claim her second win and a new personal best with a distance of 55.02km.

An elated Stelmach, who conquered rain and heat at the Flagship Run Poznań, said: “Today I did it for those who cannot run, and also for those who don’t believe in themselves, because it’s very important to be strong.”

In the Wings for Life World Run, everyone worldwide starts simultaneously at 11:00am UTC – which, for example, is 1:00pm in Central Europe, 11:00pm in mainland New Zealand and 4:00am in Vancouver, Canada – and the participants experienced a variety of conditions. According to the official race weather forecaster, UBIMET, the coldest temperature recorded was in Quebec City, Canada (5°C) and the hottest in Lucknow, India (41°C); while the sunniest runs were experienced in Zadar, Croatia and Cape Town, South Africa, and the wettest in San Francisco, USA.

Since the first edition in 2014, a total of 1,559,534 Wings for Life World Run participants have raised a total of 51.93 million euros. A total of 299 research promising projects and clinical trials have been provided with funding so far, all chosen through an exacting selection procedure.

Dr. Joshua Burda of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, USA, is one of the researchers whose work is supported by funds raised in the Wings for Life World Run. Expressing his gratitude to this year’s runners, he said, “Thank you so much for being part of this global movement, allowing me to continue my important research toward a cure for spinal cord injury. Because of you and your involvement, we can continue giving hope to those with spinal cord injury and their families.”

The 12th edition of the Wings for Life World Run will take place on May 4, 2025. Registration to run with the App is already open now, and registration to run at specific App Run Event and Flagship Run locations will open on November 6, 2024. For more information, to receive notifications and to register:

Full results list, news and reactions are available at

Unofficial results, Wings for Life World Run 2024: 

1. Dominika Stelmach, POL, Flagship Run Poznań, 55.02km
2. Nataša Šustić, CRO, Flagship Run Zadar, 51.58km
3. Ingalena Schömburg-Heuck, GER, Flagship Run Munich, 50.88km

1.    Tomoya Watanabe, JPN, Fukuoka App Run Event, 70.09km
2.    Guillaume Ruel, FRA, Flagship Run Vienna, 68.29km 
3.    Valentin Poncelet, BEL, Flagship Run Breda, 66.61km

RACE DAY QUOTES Wings for Life World Run, May 5, 2024 

Stefanos Tsitsipas, championship-winning tennis pro (GRE)
“I’m running for those who can’t. It’s exciting that over 250,000 people have joined and are participating, and I’m looking forward to how much more of an impact this cause can have.”

Heinz Kinigadner, Wings for Life co-founder
“The Wings for Life World Run is a wonderful day, because it is the day when everyone thinks about spinal cord injury. The income from the run supports scientists and their research, and every year we can see that we are coming a big step closer to our target.”

Anita Gerhardter, Wings for Life CEO
“What a day it was. It’s almost impossible to put into words all the emotions I went through, all the amazing encounters I had, and the atmosphere. It was just everything I hoped for, and more. Together, 265,818 World Runners managed to raise 8.1 million euros for spinal cord research. And 100% of that money will go towards research projects that give hope for spinal-injured people. This has been an incredible day for the foundation, and I’d like to thank all the World Runners, all the volunteers and all the sponsors for helping us today. Thank you so much.”


About the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research 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 or a fall. Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation with the single mission to find a cure for spinal cord injury. Since 2004, Wings for Life has funded life-changing research projects and clinical trials around the globe. While a cure is still to be found, steady progress has been made. Every step taken at the Wings for Life World Run is a step in the right direction, because 100% of entry fees and donations goes to spinal cord research:

About the Wings for Life World Run
Once a year, the Wings for Life World Run takes place around the globe. All participants start at the same time worldwide and run either individually with the Wings for Life World Run App or together in several Flagship Runs. The best part is that any form of the run is all about being there. It doesn’t matter how well, fast or far you run, whether you’re a professional athlete, hobby runner or an absolute beginner. It is all about having fun while running. For this reason there is no traditional finish line. Instead, 30 minutes after the start, either a virtual or – in the case of the Flagship Runs – a real Catcher Car picks up the chase and overtakes one runner after another. Results aren’t measured in time, but in distance achieved. Best of all: 100% of entry fees and donations goes directly to spinal cord research. In the editions of the Wings for Life World Run that have been completed to date, a total of 1,559,534 registered participants from 195 nationalities ran, walked and rolled on all seven continents and together raised a total of €51.93 million to find a cure for spinal cord injury. 

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