GUELPH — Joe Weiler was among 120 people walking, rolling and running along a 2.5-kilometre course at the University of Guelph Sunday in a Wheels in Motion fundraising event for spinal cord injury services and research.
Weiler, 54, gets around in a wheelchair as he has since 1981, the year the Guelph man was cutting a branch off a tree.
“I slipped and fell and landed on the back of my head — and broke my neck,” Weiler said.
He participates in the fundraiser virtually every year.
“It means a lot to me,” said Weiler, a quadriplegic on a disability pension. “It’s to help people with spinal cord injuries, making life easier.”
His sister, Barb Norrish, said he’s benefited directly, getting a hands-free telephone from Wheels in Motion.
“He sees it put to good use,” she said.
While his condition may not be treatable because of muscle deterioration, Weiler holds out hope that scientific breakthroughs may one day offer timely treatment for others with serious spinal cord injuries.
Wheels in Motion, now in its seventh year locally, is named in honour of Rick Hansen, the Canadian paralympian famous for his Man in Motion world tour in the mid-1980s through 34 countries to raise public awareness and research funding.
Cyndy McLean, a main local event organizer, said Sunday’s walk raised $12,000, compared with $14,000 a year earlier.
Much of that will be used for local services, like adaptive equipment such as special lifts. Areas of study include stem cell research, promising hope of timely interventions so people with injuries don’t suffer permanent paralysis.
“I couldn’t think of anything better,” said McLean, director of the U of G’s health and performance centre. In the meantime, she also takes comfort in improvements in technology that mean better wheelchairs and other aids.
Each year, 1,000 Canadians suffer spinal cord injuries, said McLean.
She knows that only too well. The first year of the local Wheels in Motion fundraiser was also the first anniversary, almost to the day, of McLean’s injury. On a holiday hike in Michigan, she fell more than 20 metres, a drop that left her a paraplegic.
Events such as Sunday’s Wheels in Motion keep the subject of spinal cord injuries in the media.
Hansen also continues to do his bit globally — he was a torchbearer in the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver.