Blind adventurer Mark Pollock, who was left paralysed after a fall from a second storey window 10 years ago, is on a mission to bring people together to cure paralysis in our lifetime.
And he is making amazing strides forward to achieve it by linking up the world of science, technology and business through a new charity, Collaborative Cures.
Later this month the charity will be given a massive boost when Mark's annual fundraiser Run in the Dark is staged virtually around the globe in support of it.
Run in the Dark is an annual 5km and 10km event which was set up 10 years ago by Mark's friends to help raise funds for him during the 16 months he spent in hospital recovering from the horrific injuries which left him paraplegic.
This year with Covid-19 restrictions, the event will go virtual at 8pm on November 18 when 25,000 people will run or walk separately while connecting socially worldwide.
An inspirational speaker, who is in demand across the globe for his talks on leadership, resilience and collaboration, that he is now delivering online, Mark (44) has responded to challenges which for many of us are unthinkable.
When he was just 22 he was plunged into a world of darkness after losing his sight. Initially devastated, it wasn't long before he bounced back, rebuilding his identity as an adventure athlete racing in ultra-endurance events across deserts, mountains, and the polar ice caps, including being the first blind person to race to the South Pole as well as winning medals rowing for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games.
In 2010, a fall from a second story window nearly killed him. Mark broke his back and the damage to his spinal cord left him paralysed.
Now he is on a new expedition, this time to cure paralysis in our lifetime by exploring the intersection where humans and technology collide.
He does this while running his very successful international motivational speaking business, and is best known for his 2018 TED Talk focused on resolving the tension between acceptance and hope delivered jointly with his fiancée, Simone George.
It has gathered over 1.8 million views online and has been translated into 16 languages.
Along with Simone and his team, they have also contributed to collaborations valued at over $10m in pursuit of a cure for paralysis.
Mark took his first steps with the help of a robotic exoskeleton in 2012 but it wasn't until 2014 that he experienced the impact of combining that with electrical stimulation of his spinal cord during a collaborative research study at UCLA.
During the three-month study, he voluntarily moved his legs while walking in his robotic legs, and in doing so became the first person ever with chronic, complete paralysis to regain enough voluntary control to move with a robotic exoskeleton.
He explains: "I started collaborating with Ekso Bionics in California to test their new production robotic exoskeleton and walked for the first time in 2012. Since then I have taken over a million-and-a-half steps.
"We then discovered that scientists in UCLA in Los Angeles had developed a device that allows for electrical stimulation of the spinal cord with the aim of promoting voluntary movement.
"But, while they and Ekso knew about each other, they hadn't worked together on any joint projects and making those connections seemed to be where we could contribute.
"So, in 2014, we created our first major collaboration to research what would happen if I used both technologies at the same time.
"For three months I became a human guinea pig in the lab in Los Angeles. Each day the scientists placed electrodes on the skin on my lower back and pushed electricity into my damaged spinal cord.
"With the stimulator turned on, as I walked in my robot, I was able to voluntarily move my legs. As I did more of the work, the robot did less. It isn't a cure but it will be part of the cocktail of interventions that will lead to that cure.
"For me, from being completely paralysed to being upright and voluntarily moving my legs was physically and psychologically incredible. And it was the launch pad for much of what we have done over the last few years."
Mark reveals the challenge isn't a lack of scientific curiosity or desire, but how to move these breakthrough research findings from the lab, into spin-out companies, finance them and make them available to the 60 million people who are paralysed worldwide.
He says: "To do that it seems to require a systematic focus on creating the conditions for collaboration where scientists, investors, foundations and everyone else who needs to be involved can find a way to work together."
And that is where his new charity Collaborative Cures comes in. It is focused on connecting scientists and technologists with business knowhow, regulatory expertise and the capital to see his vision realised.
Building trust between the different parties is one of the first hurdles, but Mark is optimistic as he explains: "Perhaps my experience of growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s has informed my thinking about bringing people together. I'm not sure but I think we have a sense of how people can have radically different perspectives but find a way to make it work.
"People in our country did it in the 1990s when everyone involved somehow found a way forward through the Good Friday Agreement. And that imperfect yet inspiring process provides me with great hope for what we are attempting to do in a different arena."
Now Mark hopes to boost funding for Collaborative Cures through this year's Run in the Dark.
As darkness sweeps the globe on Wednesday, November 18, at 8pm, 25,000 people worldwide will get up from their armchairs, slip on their red flashing armbands and pull on their running shoes to complete a virtual 5k or 10k.
A lot of work has gone into reimagining the global event this year because of coronavirus restrictions as Mark explains: "We used to gather 25,000 people across 50 cities each year.
"My sister Emma Pollock led the Belfast edition with lots of my school friends, family and volunteers making it possible for nearly 3,000 people to run in Stormont Estate.
"But with Covid we have switched to a socially distanced, virtual event with a new Run in the Dark timing app that will capture people's run times and add them to a global leaderboard as they finish their 5 or 10k to provide that sense of connection.
"We have also redesigned our flashing armband this year to also carry people's mobile phone so that the app can track their times as they run.
"And, of course, they'll get a medal and digital certificate as well as access to over 200 hours of fitness videos and training programmes on our online wellness hub.
"Our main aim is that people feel part of something, even if they have to run on their own.
"We're trying to create a sense of connection with a global community of like- minded people and give people something positive to go for, despite the restrictions that we're all living with."
And he adds: "It's our 10th edition of Run in the Dark and I really hope people will come out and take part no matter where they live. It should be a great event and any fundraising will help Collaborative Cures work to bring people together to cure paralysis."
You can sign up for Run in the Dark coming up on November 18 at www.runinthedark.org