There are a lot of awesome things about Canada, and Rick Hansen is one of the coolest things about this beautiful place. This positive man’s journey post-injury may have began in athletics (and boy did he kick butt there), but that’s not where his resume ends; it’s where it begins. To millions of Canadians, Rick is known as the “Man in motion” for an amazing 40,000 mile journey that took two years to complete, wearing out 117 tires and 11 pairs of gloves in the process.
Why he’s fearless
Rick was injured at the age of 15 in 1973, while riding in the back of a pickup truck (it crashed, throwing him several feet). Despite being able to walk on crutches, there was no denying that he was paralyzed from the waist down. All of the sports and outdoor activities he grew up loving to do (in the small town of Williams Lake, British Columbia, where he’s from) now seemed out of reach. He had never known anybody with a disability before, and fell into a deep depression.
But then he discovered adapted sports, and his depression began to lift. Wheelchair volleyball, racing and wc-basketball were the sports he became involved in, and he got good fast. Rick won his first international wheelchair marathon in 1979, and he competed in wheelchair racing at both the 1980 and 1984 summer Paralympics, winning three gold medals two silver and a bronze. He also graduated with a degree in Physical Education at the University of British Columbia, and between 1979 in 1984, he won 19 international wheelchair marathons, including the 1984 world tour championships and the 1982 Boston marathon.
No wonder Canada loves this guy for his athletic prowess. In 1983, he received the Lou Marsh Award for Outstanding Canadian Athlete of the year (along with Wayne Gretzky, whom he shared the award with that year) and in 2000 British Columbia Wheelchair Sports named him “male athlete of the century.” If you take one look at Rick’s arm, even though he’s now 55 years old, you can tell athletics are in this man’s DNA.
It was in 1985 when he blew up even more on the scene, when he used his athletic skill for a greater good, going on the now-famous, “Man In Motion” tour, where he pushed himself 40,000 kilometers and through 34 countries. It took two years to complete (467 of those days were spent on the road) and he met his wife in the process (his physiotherapist left her job and joined him on the road. Aw). And the mission of this amazing trek? To raise money for spinal cord injury research. $26 million was raised and they also brought attention to the need to make communities more accessible and inclusive. Thankfully, a ton of great footage was taken from this epic event so you can get a taste of the excitement that surrounded it (watch here).
After his amazing odyssey, two huge things happened in his life – Rick married the love of his life, his doctor Amanda (they now have three beautiful daughters) and he founded what is now the largest disability foundation in Canada (helping millions each day) – the Rick Hansen Foundation. Their motto is really beautiful, “building a healthy, inclusive world” and they’ve helped raise a jaw-dropping $280 million towards spinal cord injury research. They also develop accessibility projects and quality of life initiatives.
While staying busy working for his foundation and motivational speaking, environmentalism is another issue Rick has taken to. He grew up with a deep love of fishing and is an avid fisherman till this day. Knowing wild fish are endangered, he’s founding chair of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, helping to conserve and protect Fraser River white sturgeon and their habitat. He also formed the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund Society to help support the conservation and sustainable use of Pacific salmon stocks.
Rick also hasn’t forgotten his first love – athletics. He’s a wheelchair volleyball and basketball coach in his spare time, passing on his love of athletics to younger generations.
Have you met Rick Hansen? How has he influenced your life?
Watch the videos!