Twenty-five years after Rick Hansen set out on his Man in Motion World Tour, his efforts to promote an accessible world still inspire Canadians.
Hansen suffered a spinal cord injury at the age of 15. Twenty-five years ago, he launched his world tour to raise awareness and funds for those with similar conditions.
For two years, two months and two days, Hansen, wheeled more than 40,000 km, raising $26 million for spinal cord injury research.
Now the Rick Hansen Relay is rolling through Central Alberta to commemorate the original tour.
Twenty-two medal bearers are representing Red Deer in the relay, which arrived in the city on Friday and continues today.
The relay will span 12,000 km coast-to-coast and engage approximately 7,000 medal bearers. The 273-day relay started on Aug. 24 in Cape Spear, N.L., and wraps up in Vancouver on May 22.
The arrival of the relay has given Central Albertans with disabilities a chance to reflect on how life can change, but that great things can still be accomplished.
Marlin Styner, who chaired the Premiers Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities until recently, worked with the disability community since 1981. He originally planned on being a medal bearer in the last leg of the relay coming through Red Deer.
“This is so important to Marlin, this Rick Hansen Foundation,” Styner’s wife Diane Gramlich said on Thursday.
Styner, who was disabled in a motor vehicle accident more than 25 years ago, has been in hospital dealing with serious health concerns but Gramlich relayed a message on his behalf.
“A person with a disability is just that, a person. We have the same hopes dreams, fears, drives and desires as the next person — we just have to figure out a way to get there,” she said.
Duane Daines was the final medal bearer when the tour went through Innisfail on Thursday. He said his life changed after a rodeo accident in 1995 that paralyzed him from the waist down.
But the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of famer wasn’t slowed down and became an advocate for people with disabilities.
“When I was injured with a spinal cord injury, I was in Vancouver and Rick (Hansen) came and saw me and we stayed in touch so this all really does hit home,” Daines said.
“I try to represent that even though I had a spinal cord injury, life goes on. In Rick Hansen’s words, you still are the same person, it doesn’t matter what disability you have.”
Creating greater awareness of disabilities is exactly what the Rick Hansen Foundation has done, said Aaron Tarnowski, community development co-ordinator with the Canadian Paraplegic Association.
Over the years, Tarnowski said he has seen public awareness and accessibility improve in Red Deer.
“I think it is a wonderful opportunity for people to get out and see exactly how we can raise awareness for people with disabilities,” Tarnowski said.
“Rick Hansen has done tremendous things for Canadians over the last 25 years and it is a great way for people to show appreciation.
“Even though a person has a disability it may make them physically different but as a person they are no different than anyone else.”
Many people lined the relay route on Friday from the G.H. Dawe Community Centre to Red Deer College and cheered Red Deer’s medal bearers.
The relay leaves Red Deer today for Blackfalds and Lacombe. On Sunday, it travels from Lacombe to Ponoka. On Monday, the route takes medal bearers from Ponoka to Hobbema and Wetaskiwin.