After a spinal injury, SCAD student races for cure

Brooke Thabit, 20, a design student at SCAD Atlanta, can’t run, but she can race.

On May 8 she will be racing toward a goal that’s both personal and global. She will be raising money for spinal cord research so that one day the steps she takes are not just monetary but physical.

The former surfer is participating in the Wings for Life World Run, an unconventional race that happens simultaneously in 40 locations around the world. In this race a “catcher car” trails the racers and the winner is the runner who stays in front of the car the longest, 54 kilometers in one case.

Thabit will race in Sunrise, Fla., near where her parents live, and one of two race locations in the U.S. (The other is in Santa Clarita, Calif.) “It’s always a good day,” said Thabit, who has participated in three races, and will have a friend serving as a “pusher,” propelling her chair. “It’s super fun.”

More than 130,000 people have participated since the first race in 2014, raising $8 million for research.

Thabit anticipates the day when that research will help her. In 2012 while swimming with friends in Florida, she dove off a dock, fracturing her neck. Doctors told her the chances of walking again were slim.

Though she must use a wheelchair (and a beach wheelchair when she goes back in the ocean), Thabit doesn’t accept the doctor’s prediction. “There is a cure right around the corner and this foundation gives me and other people with spinal cord injury a lot of hope,” said Thabit.

Intense workouts have helped her conquer small tasks, such as learning how to ride a stationary bicycle. When she isn’t at class or in her dormitory room at SCAD, she’s going through rehab at the Shepherd Spinal Center.

The Wings For Life organization has also provided some special moments for Thabit, including a skydiving expedition.

Her design work could help with another ambition: creating a world that’s a little more accommodating. Wheelchair ramps often turn the wrong way; restaurant tables frequently have structural elements that block her chair. Better design can fix these things, she says.

But among ambitions, healing is at the top of her list:

“The most important thing for me right now would be to stay as active and as healthy as possible,” she said, “so that when they do find a cure, I’m healthy enough to walk again.”

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