At Cape Spear National Historic Site Wednesday, the cheers from the audience for the “Man In Motion” Rick Hansen were visceral.
One woman jumped up and down, waving her arms and shouting “Rick! Wooo! Rick!” as Hansen wheeled onto the stage that had been erected at the site.
It was the launch for a new relay, with more than 7,000 participants, one that will bit-by-bit re-trace the cross-Canada leg of Hansen’s “Man In Motion” world tour.
Hansen began that tour 25 years ago and continued for two years, two months and two days, pushing himself to travel 40,000 kilometres in 34 countries and raising $26 million for spinal cord injury research and accessibility initiatives.
“I feel so thrilled to be back here in Cape Spear, to be here in Newfoundland and Labrador, my home away from home, a place with special memories,” he said Wednesday.
“I was blown away by the enthusiasm and the response of people from this great province. You made me feel home. You made me feel welcome. You picked up the challenge.
“You encouraged people in your province, in your communities, to continue to remove barriers, to make a difference. And you challenged people all across the country to follow your lead and to ensure that this country can come together.
“Twenty-five years later, here we are back celebrating not only the tour, but the progress since.”
Hansen thanked the various guests at the launch event: speakers from the corporate supporters, non-profit organizations and all three levels of government.
Several of those speakers got caught up on the name of the original tour when addressing the crowd — incorrectly referring to it at times as the “Many in Motion” tour, the “Wheels in Motion” tour or, in a unique address by Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie, Hansen’s “roll around the world.”
The name for the anniversary relay hasn’t fared much better, just yet. The “Rick Hansen Relay” is the title being used by organizers, or the longer “Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay.”
For some, Wednesday’s launch was for remembrance — a chance to recall a physical effort now a quarter century old, but with a message of personal strength and inclusion that still reverberates.
Wearing a Rick Hansen “Man In Motion” baseball cap he had been given 25 years earlier, while an MP for St. John’s West, Crosbie called the original tour “an historic feat of grit and guts, strength, endurance and determination, character and tenacity.”
Minister of State Maxime Bernier, expressed appreciation for Hansen’s continuing non-profit work on behalf of the Government of Canada.
“His leadership has shown us what’s possible,” said Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, who appeared by video to express her anticipation for the arrival of the anniversary relay.
“What Rick has done is inspire people to dream and not only to dream, but to actualize that dream,” said St. John’s mayor Dennis O’Keefe.
“Rick Hansen’s determination to show the world that persons of all abilities could continue as productive members of their communities inspired people around the world to believe in their own potential, hopes and dreams,” added Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
“This 25th anniversary is in celebration,” Hansen said. “This 25th anniversary is also about leaving legacies. It is about looking to the future.”
Youth council co-chairman with the Assembly of First Nations, Noel Joe of Conne River, spoke of the future.
“This work is inspiring a new generation, my generation, to give life to our dreams, to take action and to continue to change the world,” he said.
Rather than a torch, relay participants are carrying a silver medal and, after Hansen, the first to carry the medal was 13-year-old Jacob Manning of Conception Bay South.
Manning has Type 1 diabetes and is an advocate for active living among young people with the disease. He applied as a participant in the “Rick Hansen Relay” online and was selected.
“I’m not sick with diabetes. I’m living with diabetes,” he said following his relay leg.
“I’d just kind of like to say, like Rick Hansen says, you can do anything in spite of a challenge.”
The 25th anniversary relay is scheduled to continue 12,000 kilometres across the country over the next nine months, ending May 1, 2012 in Victoria, British Columbia. A full relay schedule is available online at rickhansenrelay.com.