The world-class Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility (SCIRF) at the Centre for Brain, is funded by the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust, and was established in 2011 by Professor Louise Nicholson, Dr Simon O’Carroll and Professor Colin Green.

Every year the CatWalk Trust launches several campaigns to fun vital research that will lead to a cure for spinal cord injuries in our lifetime. One of these initiatives, Team CatWalk, was launched in May at the Centre for Brain Research in our Faculty. This campaign involves twenty five non-athletes (so far), training and fundraising to go to this year’s New York City Marathon in November. Every team member has already financed his or her trip, so every dollar raised will go towards finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

For the third year in a row, the CatWalk Trust deputy chairman, Dave Pretorius, has taken it upon himself to cajole every friend, friend of friends, and business associate he’s encountered to join him in running the epic TCS New York City Marathon. As a result of his enormous passion and energy, Team CatWalk 2017 has grown to a crowd of 28 athletes and 8 supporters.

The evening was co-hosted by Professor Louise Nicholson and Dr Simon O’Carrol, who delivered insightful and compelling speeches about the work of the Facility and what it means to our Centre to have the support of the CatWalk Trust. From the Trust, Team Captain David Pretorius and wheelchair-bound Don Buckingham also motivated attendees by sharing their personal experiences with spinal cord injuries and how important it is to “keep up the good work” (in terms of research momentum).

At the back of the room listening to the inpiring presentation sat two young Honours students who are currently progressing their own research programs in spinal cord injury research at the CBR.  When team capitain, Dave Pretorius mentioned there were still a couple of entries available for further participants to join the team, expanding on his belief that more makes for merrier, and adds to the ultimate success of the campaign, Laverne Robilliard and Connor Clemett looked at each other and said, “We can do this. We should do this.”

Laverne says she felt so moved hearing about what everyone at the CatWalk Trust was doing for them. “The amount of work they put into what we do and the lengths people go to really resonated with me. I came away feeling a fire within me and it reiterated that what we are doing here is tangible.“ She says of the marathon, “The reward of getting through something that seems so huge to me, and the fact that it is also putting something back into the work I’m really passionate about, is incredible to me. And meeting the people who are directly impacted by my work excites me.”

Connor says he felt so inspired by Dave. “I didn’t attend the evening with the idea of running the marathon, but the event added a layer of excitement and meaning to what I’m doing in the lab. I thought the infectious enthusiasm and camaraderie Dave brought to the whole thing was awesome, and I thought then if there was ever anything I could contribute that would add to what I do, this is surely it. We came away buzzing, and luckily Louise Nicholson and Sir Richard were there, saw our excitement and offered to support us as representatives of the CBR.”

Distinguished Professor, Sir Richard Faull, had watched the students approach Dave after the formalities concluded. He and Professor Louise Nicholson heard them asking the big question; what would it cost to take part? For a student, it’s a large number.

Sir Richard, knowing what a tough financial challenge it would be for them, stepped forward and offered to help by funding half their costs. He says he saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate the CBR’s commitment to the Catwalk Trust.

“For two of our students to have the opportunity, and to want to go to the New York marathon, is marvellous because it engages them in a practical way in contributing to the ongoing lives and possibility of a cure to those with spinal cord injury.

“I’ve been helped by people in all sorts of ways in my career, and the best way to give thanks for that is for me to help others. I believe it is a responsibility everyone should have, and so when these two young students expressed their interest, I committed to personally contributing to make this dream come true.

“I don’t consider this a handout – the students have to fund the other half of the fare themselves – but it is my hope that this experience will transform their lives.”

For Connor and Laverne this undertaking will be no mean feat. Their Honours theses are due for submission the day after Team CatWalk departs for New York so their academic commitments need to be adjusted to accommodate an accelerated conclusion. Since both students intend applying for Doctoral positions in the Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility, they need to achieve the highest distinction in their Honours thesis in order to be accepted and gain funding for their PhD research. So, to add training for a marathon to the mix, and fundraising for CatWalk, they face a very challenging few months ahead.

Connor says, “It is going to be difficult with our other commitments, but I believe it is possible, and it doesn’t compare to those having to live with spinal cord injury.”

Please support Connor and Laverne by visiting their fundraising pages.

Connor Clemett

Laverne Robilliard

For more information on the Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility visit


Share This