Thirty years ago, one of Richmond’s most famous sons, Rick Hansen, completed an incredible journey — his now renowned and celebrated Man in Motion World Tour.
Hansen, a world-class wheelchair marathoner and Paralympic medalist, spent 26 months traversing 40,000 kilometres in his wheelchair across 34 countries on four continents.
In the process, Hansen and his small crew raised $26 million for research into spinal cord injury and, in the last three decades, has improved the lives of people with disabilities around the world through his Rick Hansen Foundation.
To mark the auspicious anniversary of his world tour, Hansen and author Jake MacDonald have released a book, Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour: 30 Years Later — A Celebration of Courage, Strength, and the Power of Community.
Written by MacDonald, with a foreword by Hansen, proceeds from the book will go to the Rick Hansen Foundation.
Below is an excerpt from the book:
When the beginning seemed like the end
His name was Rick Hansen, and he was a 27-year-old paraplegic. In the spring of 1985 he set out from Vancouver, British Columbia, in a wheelchair, determined to do what everyone said was impossible.
“When I first heard of his plan, I told him he was crazy,” says advertising executive and broadcaster Fin Anthony. “I told him the most helpful thing I could do for him was to call in two doctors and get him committed.”
Rick’s dream was to push his wheelchair around the world — to spend 18 months wheeling through 34 countries. The weather would range from unpleasant to dangerous. The timeline would mean wheeling more than two full marathons every wheeling day. The chances of a serious medical breakdown or fatal accident were significant, and if he survived the 40,000-kilometre trek, he would come home without a nickel to show for it. Worst of all, he was abandoning a woman who was becoming the love of his life.
Why would anyone want to do this?
As a teenager in a wheelchair, and as a young man at university, Rick Hansen was the constant target of awkward glances, and he wondered how he could help create a more positive image of people with disabilities.
What if he got in his wheelchair and pushed it around the world, demonstrating the potential of people with disabilities and showing that anything is possible if we allow ourselves to dream?
So on that spring day he spent preparing to embark on his dream, he burned with determination as he strapped himself into his chair. This dream wasn’t just a personal challenge; it was a battle to change attitudes and raise awareness.
A crowd had gathered at the Oakridge Centre in South Vancouver to cheer him on, and as he powered his way out of the parking lot, the roar of applause was a blast of jet fuel. Like a fiery-eyed warrior of ancient Sparta, Rick was determined to come home with his shield, or upon it.
Rick was arguably one of the finest wheelchair athletes in the world, a veteran of countless marathons, but even the first day on the road proved to be much more difficult than he and his road crew had expected.
His support vehicle got into an accident pulling out of the mall parking lot. His trainer and road manager, Tim Frick, wiped out on his bicycle just south of the city and narrowly escaped being run over by a car.
A motorist following Rick and his convoy slowed down out of caution and was smashed from behind by another vehicle. Faulty map reading and confusion forced Rick to wheel two shifts of 48 kilometres, each one longer than a marathon. By the end of the first day he was a wreck.
Things kept getting worse. The March wind strengthened to 40 kilometres per hour and shot rain in his face. The van broke down. The hills were steeper than expected, and muscling the chair up the grades was punishing work.
To make up for lost time, he sped down a hill and nearly crashed, narrowly escaping catastrophe. He was chilled, sore, confused. His left wrist started to fail him, then his right. The chair was uncomfortable; his arms and shoulders cramped from the torturous exertion of 9000 strokes per day. Long-distance wheeling had never felt this impossible before, and he began to fear that his hardened physique, battered and injured by so many years of competition, was finally beginning to break down.
Even worse was the pain in his heart. With every stroke of his arms, he worried about his girlfriend. He couldn’t stop missing her. He had been lucky enough to meet the exact person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, but he’d left her behind. Would she be waiting for him 18 months from now when he finished his reckless journey? Was that even reasonable?
He had only been on the road for a couple of days and already the crazy mission seemed doomed. Alone in his chair, pushing through the incessant wind and rain, he couldn’t help wondering if he was a fool.
Everyone had told him this project was impossible, but he had refused to believe them. Were they right? The most important element of any athletic challenge is staying positive, and his determination was weakening. By the end of the third day he felt deluded and beaten.
It was the shame and embarrassment that bothered him the most. He’d set out to show everyone what a guy in a wheelchair could do, and now he was failing the dream.
He wondered how he could break it to his loyal road crew and his supporters back home that he was defeated. They would have a hard time believing it.
Ever since breaking his back in that accident, he had never given up. He had always prided himself on analyzing the problems, finding a way past the obstacles.
As Rick sat there, trying to summon the nerve to tell everyone, it occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, there was a way to carry on.
Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour: 30 Years Later — A Celebration of Courage, Strength, and the Power of Community costs $34.95 and is being released Saturday.