Like his friend Terry Fox, Rick Hansen didn’t set out to become a Canadian hero, but that’s exactly what happened anyway. We all know the story of Terry Fox, the young man who lost a leg to cancer and selflessly wanting to help others, embarked on a cross country run to raise funds and awareness of the disease that ultimately claimed his life. Thanks in part to the legacy of Terry Fox, we also know about Rick Hansen, the man who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a road accident at the age of 15. For some, such a catastrophic injury would have been difficult to overcome, but not for Hansen; he knew that it was his opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of others.
Watching Fox’s Marathon of Hope, Hansen had the idea to wheel his way around the world, something that started small and somewhat quietly but ended with over $26 million donated to finding new hope for those with spinal cord injuries. It seemed that the tour gained momentum as it went along, with a million people lining the streets of Beijing China to see his entrance to the city, something that has since been the source of the documentary Heart of a Dragon. He also famously wheeled along the Great Wall of China, and ended with a marathon cross-Canada trek from east to west. Twenty six months, over 40,000 km and 34 countries later Rick Hansen achieved his dream. His Man in Motion tour ended close to where it began, in Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium to thousands of cheering fans to greet the now world famous Canadian.
Rick Hansen may have finished his tour in May of 1987, but he still works tirelessly to bring hope and change to those affected with spinal injuries. He is the past president of the foundation that bears his name, he is a paralympian with a total of 6 Paralympic medals, and he has won 19 international wheelchair marathons in addition to his motivational speaking engagements the world over.
When the Winter Olympic Games came to Vancouver in 2010, there was Hansen on one of the last legs of the Torch Relay, bringing the flame to the city. He has authored two books, has many honorary appointments, has schools named after him and has even had a song written about him: St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) a joint effort by Canada’s David Foster and John Parr; a song which went to number one on the Billboard chart.
Over the course of his career, Rick Hansen has raised more than $200 million for his cause, he is someone who never gave up, no matter the circumstances. He inspires, he motivates and he is a national treasure, just like his friend Terry Fox. Ordinary men who although disabled lived extraordinary lives-not only for themselves, but for the thousands similarly affected.