There are some weeks I love my job. This was one of them.
I got to meet one of my heroes.
That’s right. Rick Hansen.
For my non-Canadian readers, Rick Hansen was a teenager when he was thrown from the back of a pick-up truck and paralyzed from the waist down. Despite his paralysis, he stayed involved in sports and eventually became the first person to graduate University of British Columbia with a degree in physical education. Inspired by another great Canadian, Terry Fox, who ran across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research, Rick started the Man in Motion Tour. He pushed himself in that wheelchair around the world to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries. This week on Parliament Hill, we held a reception for the 25th anniversary of that tour.
I can remember getting roused at some unGodly hour when I was nine years old to see Rick push himself off the Newfoundland Ferry in North Sydney. I was stunned that this guy was planning to push himself around the world. I couldn’t understand how an able-bodied person could even think of doing that, let alone someone confined to a wheelchair. As Rick would show us time and time again, being in a wheelchair wasn’t necessarily a confinement. For those fans of 80’s Brat Pack flicks, David Foster’s theme from St. Elmo’s Fire was inspired by Hansen’s journey (if you click the link there’s a related video interview with David Foster explaining). That song was everywhere on the airwaves in Canada
As I started on my own journey, Rick Hansen was a constant inspiration. When I was dragging my arse out of bed for a 6 am workout, I would just say to myself, usually in my nagging mother’s voice (sorry, Ma), “Rick Hansen pushed himself around the world. You can make your appointment with your trainer.” When I didn’t thing I could lift another weight, I’d hear the voice saying, “Rick Hansen…” You get the idea.
Now the weird thing about this photo, he’s thanking me. When I told him I worked for the Speaker, he thanked me for putting on the event. The truth is, I was only minimally involved in this event. I tweaked my boss’ speaking notes. That was pretty much it. I thanked him for everything he’s done for spinal cord research, but I couldn’t get over the fact that one of my heroes was thanking me.
I have to admit that I didn’t have a lot of real life heroes growing up. In the 1980s, it seemed like pretty much every athlete was on some kind of drug. I was never the starstuck type, either. I remember being a caddy at a celebrity golf tournament and not giving a whit if I got to caddy for Mike McPhee or Tommy Hunter or …. I was there for the money.
(BTW, I hate golf. Just a brief aside. Mark Twain said it ruined a good walk in the woods. I agree with him on that point. Now that I got that off my chest, back to our post.)
Rick Hansen was different. He wasn’t a professional athelete, so he wasn’t in it for the money. He wasn’t even in it for himself. He was doing it to raise awareness and money to help others in his situation. That struck a chord that stays with me to this day. I would tune into the news everyday during the Man in Motion tour to see where he was. In an era before the World Wide Web, Facebook status updates, or tweets, the nightly news was the only way to keep up with his journey.
That David Foster-penned John Parr song remains stuck in my head 25 years later. Last year, when he wheeled the Olympic flame into the stadium in Vancouver for the opening ceremonies in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, I jumped out of my chair and cheered. Almost lost my laptop in the process (the Olympics dovetailed my last big push to finish my doctoral dissertation so many an event was spent with one eye on the laptop and one eye on the TV), but my sturdy MacBook Pro survived that and many more falls over the next two weeks, usually corresponding to a Team Canada goal in hockey (the women’s 14 goal route of Italy was particularly rough).
Losing 66lbs has been one of the biggest accomplishments in my short life thus far, but it’s not like I wheeled around the world. There’s more journey ahead.