Nathan Bragg didn’t get to bump wheelchair rubber with Rick Hansen or even share the stage with his hero when the 25th anniversary medal relay – commemorating Hansen’s 1987 Man In Motion tour – came to Bragg’s hometown of Maple Ridge Wednesday night.
But that’s okay said the 18-year-old honour student and multi-disciplined wheelchair athlete from Maple Ridge Secondary.
He still couldn’t have been more proud of being asked to participate in the tour, and his contagious beaming smile showing just how much it meant to him as he rolled the ceremonial relay medal down a length of 224th Street, through Memorial Peace Park, and up onto the bandstand for the Maple Ridge leg of the relay.
“I’m just looking forward to the whole experience,” Bragg shared with The TIMES, just hours before the Maple Ridge event, predicting he’d be “slightly overwhelmed.”
“I’m just really touched and honoured to have been selected to be a difference-maker in my community,” said Bragg, who was one of 7,000 medal bearers across Canada asked to pass along the Rick Hansen medal. He participated in the Maple Ridge celebration Wednesday, and has been invited to be in the wrap-up celebrations in Vancouver next Tuesday at the Pacific Coliseum.
Bragg was one of about 10 people originally nominated for the medal bearing honour in Maple Ridge. In a close vote between Bragg and another local person, it was this Bragg who won – and with good reason, said nominator Greg Turnball, who also helped organize the local festivities.
Turnball only met Bragg around Christmas while using some adaptive workout equipment at the leisure centre.
They struck up a conversation and Turnball was “immediately impressed” by Bragg, describing him as a pleasant, charismatic, young man of strong character and conviction.
“You just see determination when you see him,” Turnball said.
Bragg has a “mild” classification of cerebral palsy, meaning he has impairments in his hands, arms, and legs.
While it’s limiting, Bragg is not always confined to a wheelchair and said his so-called disabilities don’t hold him back from pursuing any of his many dreams.
He took up wheelchair basketball at age 10, and has since excelled in the sport, earning the 2010 junior athlete of the year for B.C. with the goal of being on the B.C. team at the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
He said involvement in sports changed his life, increasing his self confidence and agility, teaching him the value of team work, and improving his overall health.
Now, excited to share that experience, he’s taken up coaching kids (eight to 20 years old) with Langley’s Gold Rush wheelchair basketball club (firstname.lastname@example.org).
He’s also, more recently, discovered how fun rugby can be – and similarly thrown himself into that sport. He just returned in April from the Canadian wheelchair rugby championships in Montreal, where he served as part of the B.C. B-team.
While Bragg is anxious to continue playing and coaching sports, he’s also psyched to be heading to Toronto this fall to study journalism at Carleton University.
So how does a young man with so much on his plate – including preparing for next month’s graduation and final exams – find time to be part of the Hansen relay?
No matter what, he said, he’d find time for a once-in-a-lifetime experience like this. Admittedly, the invitations to be a medal bearer came out of left field, but it was such an honour – he would never have considered passing it up. He was even more shocked and delighted when he received another invitation a few weeks later to be part of the Vancouver celebrations.
“Rick Hansen has done a lot for accessibility, not only in small communities like this, but around the world. If Rick Hansen hadn’t done his Man In Motion tour, who knows where our accessibility issues would be today,” said Bragg, who’s convince he personally benefits daily from the groundbreaking efforts of Hansen and his foundation.
“He’s just a major person who should be looked up to, a real Canadian hero,” Bragg said. “I’m just honoured to be involved in anything he puts his name to.”
Time allowing, Bragg is also hoping to catch the Pitt Meadows leg of the relay today, where Hansen will be making a personal appearance. That celebration is being held 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Pitt Meadows Spirit Square on Harris Road.
Meet Rick Hansen in person today
People can still be part of Rick Hansen’s journey when it rolls into Pitt Meadows today from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at Pitt Meadows Spirit Square (behind City hall) at 12027 Harris Rd.
Parking is limited, so people are encouraged to walk or bike to the event.