An edited version of the following article appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on Sunday, August 19, 2001

Spinal cord research beginning to pay dividends

Mike Nemesvary
'Round the World Challenge

Mike Nemesvary, a former champion freestyle skier, is attempting to become the first quadriplegic to drive around the world - a 40,000 kilometer trek to raise funds for spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.

This week’s article is written by Randy Waugh, a founding member and Operations Manager of the ‘Round the World Challenge.


As the team prepares to leave Sydney, Australia for Mexico, the return to Canada is fast becoming a reality. And, as the ‘Back to Canada’ committee announces event after event, I realize that the conclusion of the ‘Round the World Challenge will shortly be on the horizon.

From the second the idea was first conceived, I knew if anyone could achieve something as amazing as this, Mike could. What I have learned over the last four odd years is how difficult it is to get others to believe, and to keep them believing. Mike has stood in the limelight several times as a celebrated skier, as a stuntman in a James Bond movie and still embodies the epitome of a world class athlete. One of the greatest difficulties has been getting people to look past his disability. This was usually because they hadn’t met Mike, or didn’t take the time to get to know him, or even if they felt twinges toward believing, refused to.

From the moment I first met Mike in 1989 I barely noticed his disability. And I don’t mean that with any disrespect. I’m painfully aware of the hoops my close friend has to jump through just to get through each day. On January 6th, 1993 in Cancún, Mexico I had a swimming pool accident that turned my honeymoon into a nightmare. I sustained a spinal cord injury that created pain so intense it is truly indescribable, and numbness, and loss of control of my body, and secondary injuries because of my injury. It took me two years of some of the hardest work I’ve ever had just to almost get back to normal. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be a normal able-bodied person again, and although I don’t display any of the signs of many with similar injuries, my limitations serve as a lifelong reminder that without warning, in a split second, any of our lives can be changed forever. During my recovery I thought of Mike continually. He is one of those rare people who is larger than life and easily draws people into his visions Then he keeps you believing by moving at a pace that is sometimes unbearable for most able-bodied persons.

I think of the many devoted individuals who’ve been working hard for four years with no pay or recognition just because they believed. I think of the early corporate sponsors who believed and who bought in by asking "What can we do to help?" And I’m so incredibly proud of my close friend Mike for his incredible courage, vision and tenacity. And I am profoundly grateful to all those who have worked close to the pulse of this project, to those who have just recently started to help, and to those who haven’t yet but will in the coming months.

Over the past few weeks, the headlines have been full of exciting news in the area of spinal cord research that makes us realize just how close we may be to unravelling the mysteries that may one day give Mike back use of his hands or maybe even allow him to walk.

Just this week, McMaster University research discovered that, in rats, nerves can regenerate in the spine when cells from the intestine are transplanted into a severed spinal cord. McGill University announced they had identified a source of stem cells that can produce the type of neural cells needed to potentially help patients recover from a spinal cord injury or Parkinson's disease. And last week, U.S. President George Bush made a major announcement authorizing the use of federal funding for medical stem cell research.

That this type of research is finally getting the support it so desperately needs, is due to people like Rick Hansen, Christopher Reeve and now Mike Nemesvary and the organizations behind them.

The money that this Challenge provides may help construct the final link – for that we need you.

As the team returns to North America next week, share with us in witnessing history as this Canadian hero makes his way back to his hometown after having circled the globe behind the wheel of his specially modified truck. Don’t just follow their progress though. Spread the message to everyone. Please give generously to the Challenge. And be there to meet Mike on Parliament Hill when he returns home on October 23rd. We’ve recently learned that San Francisco has named August 30th "Mike Nemesvary day". Let’s show the world that Ottawa can do even better.

 

To get involved or to donate to the ‘Round The World Challenge, please visit our web site at http://www.roundtheworldchallenge.com or contact the office at 613-274-7955.