Less than a month ago I was invited to join a group on Facebook called "I WILL". At first glance this looked like a regular running group training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. As I dug deeper into the feed I realized that this group was anything but ordinary. 

Hearing the words "you have a 95% chance of never walking again" suffocate the room of the Toronto Hospital ICU is exactly what Rob MacDoland experienced. As I began reading his story my heart broke while simultaneously filling with joy and praise. Not only did Rob beat the odds and regain his ability to walk, but he has committed to running a full 42 km marathon this October 16th. I immediately said to myself, I need to meet this man. 

Four Years Ago...

While vacationing with friends in Cabo, Mexico, MacDonald fell thirty feet from a hotel balcony, dislocating his spine in two places, fracturing nine vertebrae, breaking eleven ribs and his scapula, and puncturing a lung. The fractured vertebrae pinched his spinal cord, obstructing vital blood flow; the longer the obstruction went on, the more extensive the damage.

In need of immediate surgery, MacDonald was taken via air ambulance to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, where a team of surgeons straightened and secured his spine using a computer-guided 3D intra-operative scanner. In terms of spinal cord injury, it was the gold standard in care: the fastest, most precise, and least invasive intervention possible. Even still, his diagnosis — asia B paraplegia — did not paint a promising picture.

For seven agonizing days, the twenty-six-year-old MacDonald struggled to come to terms with a future he could never have imagined. The lifelong athlete and former hockey and squash player now had a one-in-twenty shot of ever walking again.

“For those first seven days, nothing in my lower body moved,” MacDonald recalls. “I was in the ICU and I was pretty banged-up, and I thought, you know, I’m not gonna walk again. I know I’m not gonna walk again. I can’t feel anything in my lower body, I can’t move it. This is it.”

And then something happened — something terribly ordinary, yet quietly significant:  the big toe on his left foot began, ever so slightly, to twitch.

It wasn’t much. But for MacDonald, that small twitch was enough.

“I basically took it as a sign,” he says. “If my toe can twitch, well then, something else can move. I kept thinking, if you just keep moving, keep doing, keep thinking, keep positive — you’ll be able to heal.”

This is the mindset of a person who can make change. Whether it be physical, emotional, or social, the "I can do this" attitude is what brought Rob back on his own two feet and brought him to his social fundraising goals today. 

I Will, I Will, I Will...

"It didn't matter if it was wiggle my toe, or get up to go to the bathroom, or walk for the first time, or stand up out of my wheelchair, or complete a 5K run," he recalls. "It was just, I will, I, will, I will. And that kind of became my mantra."

With that mantra, I WILL was born. 

I WILL is group of 150 runners in every distance from the 5K to the marathon not only running for Rob but for the future Rob. With a fundraising goal of $150,000, this team of dedicated athletes will be donating all proceeds to the Toronto Rehab Foundation and the Lyndhurst Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Center. 

After meeting Rob and learning more about I WILL I was inspired (or some might say willed) to join their cause. I hope this blog has been as inspiring to you as Rob has been for me. I used to foolishly say "I don't know how people run 5K I could never do it". Now all I say is I WILL. 

Please support Rob and team I WILL by joining us in our run for the Toronto Rehab Foundation. If for some reason you can't run or walk, I encourage you to donate to our fundraising efforts. Direct links for registration and donation are below.



Team I WILL meets every Tuesday at 6:15 at King and Portland to train for the big day. Even if you can't commit to the run, join us for an evening workout!