Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion Tour, 30 Years Later

Dream big.

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“Now this is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
—Winston Churchill

When I set out from Oakridge Centre in 1985, I was taking the first step towards my big dream. At the time, of course, I had no idea that the Man In Motion World Tour was the very beginning of a much longer journey. I just knew that I wanted to make a difference and that I was willing to take a risk to make it happen.

On April 3, 1985, I was confronted with my first pivot point. Less than two weeks into the Tour, my road crew and I had already run into skirmishes. I was plagued with injuries, and ahead loomed Siskiyou Summit, a high point on the road that stretches through a range of 2000-metre mountains between Oregon and California.

The Siskiyou mountain was a metaphor for the rest of my journey. It was the first real test of whether we were ready to take on this wild and impossible dream. We were struggling so hard, and I knew that crossing that threshold would mean we were ready for what lay ahead. This was the end of the beginning for me.

I can’t remember how the hours unfolded that day. Filled with tension and apprehension, we planned to climb the mountain in stages. All I could do was turn my focus inward for each three-kilometre stretch. I started with the first stroke and continued gripping the wheel, focused on how my body was responding to each push. When we finally summited, I broke down in tears.

Some of the best dreams in the world are defeated because we cave to the forces of failure. … It’s never easy to sustain the journey. It takes resilience, grit, and tenacity.

Before the Tour, I had reconciled myself to the fact that there was a real chance I might have to abandon my dream, but I didn’t want to have any regrets. How we conduct ourselves on a personal journey is as important as achieving it; it’s a shallow victory if we lose our moral compass along the way.

The reality is that each day of a journey brings surprises, many of them tough. But each day also has beauty and magic. Sometimes you have to fight fiercely for those small victories: taking another stroke, crossing a threshold like the Siskiyou Summit, turning to a team member for a kind word, or returning a high five from someone along the road. Be present in those moments and celebrate them.

Thirty years have passed since the end of my Man In Motion World Tour, and I still reflect on that time with immense gratitude. During my darkest days, when I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge and filled with fear, I know it was those closest to me who were my “difference makers.” They challenged me to not give up hope and they supported me to continue looking forward.

The Tour became the greatest learning moment in my life, and that experience continues to shape my destiny and who I am as a human being. I wouldn’t trade the life I lead now for the use of my legs. In being confronted with my accident, in taking on the Tour, and the journey since, I’ve learned that being open to the possibilities of a dream can open doors and pathways that I never imagined.

I couldn’t have predicted that I would become founder and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation. The Tour marked the beginning of an ultramarathon of social change: it awakened the country to the potential of people with disabilities. Today, I’ve never been more optimistic about achieving my two original dreams of a world without barriers for people with disabilities and a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury. Thirty years later I’m still chasing these dreams, but I’m amazed by what we’ve been able to accomplish together over that time.

All of us confront challenges in life, yet we can also identify with the Tour’s message of hope and inspiration. My hope is that by reading this story, you’ll be brought along on the journey and inspired to join me in finding your inner “difference maker.” Together, we can shape the world we all want to be part of. We don’t need to wait for a crazy Canadian to wheel around the world, drawing attention to the values of accessibility, diversity, and inclusion, to create the country we want to live in. We all have the opportunity to dream big now and know that with the power of perseverance, everyone can make a difference. Dreams do come true.

Excerpted from “Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour: 30 Years Later—A Celebration of Courage, Strength, and the Power of Community.” Written by Jake MacDonald with a foreword by Rick Hansen and published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Reproduced here with permission from the publisher. All photographs courtesy of the Rick Hansen Foundation, with contributions from John and Joan Tennant, Harvey Glanville, Dave Doroghy, Maureen Shaughnessy Kitts, Nancy Thompson, Tim Frick, and Bob Redford.


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September 26, 2017