Trekking Tales: The magic of Rick Hansen – Part 1

I first knew Rick Hansen as a Grade 10 student in one of my classes in Williams Lake. He and a pal misbehaved

I first knew Rick Hansen as a Grade 10 student in one of my classes in Williams Lake. He and a pal misbehaved and earned themselves the inevitable “see me after school for a detention.” Knowing they deserved it, they showed up on time, abject and apologetic, but begging for release.

“Please, Mrs. Knox, we’ll miss our volleyball game (or maybe it was basketball) if we have to stay in. We’ll be good for the rest of our lives if you let us off!” I looked up at the two tall young men standing in front of me and melted. Rick already had that irresistible something – it did not emerge as a result of his accident just a few months later. Along with his childhood buddy Don Alder, also one of ‘my kids,’ Rick was hitchhiking back from a fishing trip when the pickup they were in hit a tree. Don was fine; Rick was not – with permanent damage to his spinal cord.

The Phys. Ed. teacher at the school kept us posted on Rick’s progress at the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre.  During his recovery, Rick became friends with another remarkable young man – Terry Fox. I was still at the school when Rick returned, completed Grade 12 and graduated. Although our paths did not cross, I followed his progress. This included, amazingly, being the first student with a physical disability to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Phys. Ed. at UBC.

At that time, Williams Lake in particular, and the Cariboo-Chilcotin in general, knew of Rick’s struggles and achievements. The world found out when Rick embarked on his “Man in Motion” tour, inspired by the efforts of Terry Fox. For 26 months, Rick wheeled through 34 countries, Don Alder and others with him. Part of this support team was Amanda: his physiotherapist first, then fiancée and now his wife of many years.

We were living in Kaslo when this tour, raising money for, and awareness of, spinal cord research came through southern BC. John’s mother and I went to the Balfour ferry terminal planning to see him as he wheeled off. Fortunately, expecting large crowds, we went early enough to walk onto the ferry when it was on its way over to pick him up, along with the usual array of vehicles and passengers.

On the “Anscomb” admirers, including my mother-in-law and me, surrounded him. To my delight he remembered me, calling me by name, and asking what I was doing now. “You remember Don,” he added gesturing to the young man behind me whom I had not noticed before this. “And here’s Amanda.” This time he reached his hand round to the tall girl behind him. I was too flustered to tell him how happy we were for them – and she knew Rick needed the remaining half hour of this ferry ride to rest and relax in the RV. When we landed, he ‘scooted’ off the ferry, up the incline past waving, cheering crowds, and was gone.

That was a quarter of a century ago. This year the 25th Anniversary Relay celebrates his remarkable achievements since then. About 7,000 participants, many in wheelchairs, are carrying a silver medal across Canada along his original route. It left Cape Spear, Newfoundland on Aug. 24, 2011, and will arrive in Vancouver on May 22 for Homecoming Celebrations.