“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys on the planet,” Rick Hansen told hundreds of supporters who assembled Thursday afternoon at Pitt Meadows Spirit Square.
A quarter century ago, Hansen’s trek around the world raised funds and awareness for an accessible and inclusive society, and a cure for spinal cord injury.
To help mark that global trek, the B.C. icon known as the Man In Motion was in Pitt Meadows as the Rick Hansen Anniversary Relay entered its final stretch through the Lower Mainland.
The 273-day, cross-country relay involves 7,000 Canadians who, Hansen said, “represent millions who care about a country that cares about a healthy and inclusive world.”
Near Spirit Square, Hansen welcomed local author/humourist Gordon Kirkland, the official bearer of the Rick Hansen Relay Medal for the Pitt Meadows leg.
Kirkland, currently confined to a wheelchair, knows all about the challenges of living with a spinal cord injury, after suffering one in a 1990 automobile accident.
Kirkland was one of a handful of local residents who had the honour of carrying the one-pound silver medal Hansen wore during his original wheelchair journey through 34 countries.
Another medal bearer was Pitt Meadows Elementary student Aodhan Carlisle, who has a medical condition that affects her muscles and has spent a lot of time in a wheelchair.
In the middle of Harris Road, she placed the medal around Kirkland’s neck.
Kirkland wore the medal as he made his way towards Spirit Square. Hansen enthusiastically greeted him as he entered the plaza.
A barbecue and celebration in Pitt Meadows involved, among others, members of Katzie First Nation, Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters, and Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin.
Following a series of speakers, Hansen took his turn on the mic and told the crowd, “We’re all in motion and we’re all on our journey. Each and every one of us has goals and dreams, and occasionally something comes out of the blue that challenges us.”
Hansen reflected on his own experience. At 15, his dream was to represent Canada at the Olympics. He said his life revolved around physical activity and the use of his legs.
After an accident took the use of his legs away from him, Hansen said he initially thought, “All my hopes and dreams were shattered along with my spine.”
He said support and encouragement from those close to him helped him to believe in himself.
To the audible surprise of many, Hansen then remarked, “One of the relay participants today was one of my teachers when I came back to school, wondering if I could actually continue to be a good student and maybe to go to UBC and graduate in physical education – his name is Jim Longridge.
“I say thank you, Jim. You are amazing.”
Hansen said he is impressed with how far the area has come since he visited Pitt Meadows 25 years ago.
“So many barriers removed, so many people who have done their part to be able to make the world healthier and more inclusive for all,” he said.
Local organizer Greg Turnbull said both the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows events were huge successes.
Six months of planning went into the local legs of the tour, Turnbull explained.
“We were very impressed,” Turnbull said. “We were overwhelmed by the community involvement. Looking around, seeing all these kids, it’s quite moving.”
Turnbull lived in Vancouver 25 years ago, so he knows Hansen’s story well.
“Since that time, my life has become a person with a disability, so I’m even more aware of his struggle,” Turnbull said.
The Relay is focused on awareness, especially for the younger generation, Turnbull said.
“The older generation is aware of him [Hansen]. We see accessibility, we see ramps and things all around us, and the kids are growing up with that, and now they’re putting a face to it.”