Hexagon Running to Shape Change in Spinal Cord Research

We say it every year – time flies. You think you have all the time in the world and before you know it 365 days have already passed us by.

The 2018 Wings for Life World Run feels like only yesterday, I can still feel the sun burning down on me as I set off to begin the race during a freak heatwave. As tough as it was (and as a self-confessed hater of running!) I was looking forward to registrations opening for the 2019 event, along with the chance to beat my distance and cover more ground before the catcher car was at my heels.

Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence chose Wings for Life as our corporate charity partner five years ago, with a Hexagon running team entering the World Run event each and every year. As a global organisation, it was important for us to find an event that could welcome our world-wide employee base to the start line – rather than only appealing to a select few. We also wanted to find a cause that could resonate with everyone, regardless of culture or style of living.

Wings for Life’s aim is to find a cure for spinal injury, something that could easily impact your family, friends or colleagues following something as simple as a slip, trip or fall, let alone a serious road traffic accident or large-scale incident. Before joining Hexagon, I wasn’t aware of the effects of spinal cord injury and was somewhat naïve about the level of support needed in this area in order to find a cure – unlike my colleague, Jerry Nairn. Jerry is well aware of how life changing being affected by something like spinal cord injury is, having both his brother and good friend suffer from this debilitating condition.

 “Since 2011 two people very close to me have benefitted from ongoing spinal cord research, and I hope further funding in this research will correlate in further improvements to the quality of their lives.

In September of 2011 one of my brothers was diagnosed with a severe spinal cord compression from a deteriorating and slipping disc. He had been suffering from pain, tingling, numbness, and partial paralysis for months before finally being correctly diagnosed. He has had several surgeries since this time, and more will be needed. He continues to thrive despite living with a continued level of pain at all times.

Then, in November of 2011, a close friend of mine was in a bike accident which fractured two vertebrae in his neck and severely injured his spine. In another era, his life would have been over. Although he is now wheel-chair bound, he has been able to continue to lead a happy, vigorous life and to raise his children. These are two of the bravest, strongest people I know, and I want to see them get better in any way they can. Which is why I stand with team Hexagon at the World Run.”

When registrations opened to the event for 2019, team Hexagon once again jumped to the challenge. I, along with colleagues from 11 countries, took part in the World Run on 5 May. Jerry was right there with me, signing up to take part in his first event for Wings for Life in the US. For many of my colleagues, the event is a great way to get involved with a worthy cause, while doing something fun, but it’s also a great excuse to get together and interact with one another outside of the office.

The World Run event is one of a kind. All entrants start the event at the exact same time, all over the world – for the UK this is a reasonable start, kicking off at midday. But for my colleagues around the world it’s a different story, with alarms set for the early morning in America and preparations put in place for late night running in countries in Asia.

What makes the event unique is the lack of a finish line. Rather than racing from point A to point B, located a set distance apart from each other with banners and supporters at the finish, your goal is simply to outrun the catcher car for as long as possible. There are 12 events held worldwide with real-life catcher cars, many driven by former Formula 1 racing drivers. For entrants who don’t live nearby (and don’t fancy adding a plane journey to their distance covered) app runs are available which use GPS to monitor progress. In these cases your objective remains the same, as the catcher car draws ever closer, tracking you down through your mobile device. Half an hour after the official start of the race, the catcher car sets off on your tail, gradually speeding up over a prolonged period until every last runner has been caught.

The event supports all class of runners – whether you want to dart off at the start, take it slow and steady or have a distance in mind to challenge yourself with. For me, the thought of enrolling in a race with the expectation I will be crossing the finish line 10km away (or more) is daunting – what if I don’t make it to the finish where my family and friends will be waiting? What if I end up walking most of the event and get passed by all other competitors – including an 80-year old who just fancied a challenge that day? What if I get injured…or dehydrated…or over hydrated…? There is no end to my list of running-related terrors. With the World Run, all my concerns are removed; I get to don my running shoes and just see how I get on with no expectation and no pressure on what I should be achieving and when.

This year proved a slightly different event for me, finding out shortly after registering that I would be eight months pregnant by the time World Run day came around. My role quickly changed from runner, to motivator – trying to get as many of our employees signed up and supporting the event as possible.

Some colleagues set up small running teams in their location who completed the event together. Others were happier running alone, staying focussed on achieving the longest distance possible. I tracked team Hexagon online from the comfort of my sofa, seeing who had been caught when and routing for those who were still in the race.

Hexagon employees from around the world took part in the event, with over €3 500 raised through entry fees, donations and sponsorships. 100% of this amount will go towards life-changing research by Wings for Life; they don’t sacrifice any percentage of donations received to cover administration costs or event costs which is yet another unique quality of our chosen corporate charity partner.

Team Hexagon ran their furthest distance yet, covering a combined total of 477 km and coming 119th out of 2 347 teams who entered. We’re aiming higher and even further for the event next year with discussions already well underway for team Hexagon 2020.

I for one will be at the start line – will you?


  • Natalie Tellis-James

    Natalie Tellis-James, Internal Communications Manager at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, is responsible for developing our internal communications strategy and improving employee engagement across all locations. Based in the United Kingdom, Natalie has been a part of the Global Marketing team since January 2018, developing best practices and analytical measurement techniques, while creating and delivering communications through our varied internal toolset.

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