The Man in Motion almost stopped. Rick Hansen had made his way across 33 countries in a wheelchair, but was coming off a disappointing trek up the U.S. eastern seaboard.
The Port Alberni, B.C., native was having some doubts as a result.
“There were times when I even thought about quitting just before I came back to Canada, because I was wondering if anyone was going to respond, and whether I could make a difference. Because that’s why I was doing it, not just to say I had wheeled around the world.”
Then Hansen landed in St. John’s and got a needed boost.
“What I remember most about (St. John’s) was, as soon as I came off the plane when I arrived, just so much hospitality and friendliness and goodwill.
“When we started our journey in Cape Spear, it really did feel like I was home. It felt like I was being welcomed home by some unbelievably amazing people.”
His summer 1986 wheel across Newfoundland would raise $97,000 and set the stage for a successful journey across Canada.
Hansen went on to finish his tour in Vancouver on May 22, 1987, raising a total of $26 million as well as an awareness of people with disabilities that you could never put a price tag on.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Man in Motion tour, Hansen is coming back to St. John’s.
At Cape Spear on Aug. 24, he’ll kick off a 7,000-person cross-country relay retracing the Canadian portion of his original journey.
Hansen says the goal is to celebrate the past and recognize people who’ve made a difference in their province, country or the world.
As well, he wants to ensure a new generation continues the journey, “because we still have a long way to go.”
Hansen, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a car crash at age 15, allows there’s been a lot of progress made on accessibility issues over the past 25 years.
Back then, people with disabilities couldn’t get into some city halls or schools or use public transportation.
Today, there building codes in most places as well as accessible parking spaces, ramps and curbs. Plus, technologies like audible crosswalks are emerging.
“People are seeing you can be a productive citizen ... you can be teacher, business person, mother, father or politician.”
Hansen wants to the momentum to continue, to keep man in motion.
“The long journey of (the original) tour was only two years, two months and two days, but the journey in making the world accessible for all people and a healthy place to live is an intergenerational one, and you need to see those moments where you can say, ‘We’ve made some progress. The bar is a little further ahead and we can keep going.’”
He later adds, “We want the 7,000 people to inspire Canadians to pursue their own journeys.”
Hansen will be in Newfoundland for a few days after the relay begins, thanking people, especially those he calls local difference makers.
He says the island portion of the relay — which wraps up in Port aux Basques on Sept. 6 — will be a success if support here hasn’t waned since 1986, if relay participants are honoured and if tangible legacies are left behind.
He said the world is smaller now than it was a quarter-century ago, and what people do in Newfoundland can affect change anywhere on the planet.
Trying to make the world better is what keeps him going.
“It’s the insatiable curiosity to understand things, to experience life, to look at challenges or difficulties that individuals or communities might be facing and then to try to find solutions,” he said.