Friday, November 28, 2014

Rick Hansen: Difference Maker in Motion visits Montreal

Linda Mahler and Wendy Singer with Rick Hansen at the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers convention

Rick Hansen: A Difference Maker in Motion
"You never know when the penny will drop"

By Wendy Singer

It is not every day that we get to meet a true Canadian hero. And when we do, it is a true privilege. After a day of meeting and greeting teachers at the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers convention on November 27, Linda Mahler and I joined hundreds of Quebec teachers to listen to Rick Hanson deliver the key note address of the convention.

After being greeted with a standing ovation, Mr. Hanson got right down to the meat of his story, which is laced with optimism, love, support, and dreams for the future. Hansen was injured in a truck accident when he was 15 years old. The diagnosis: a spinal cord injury (SCI) that paralyzed his physical functions below his waist. 

"My whole life felt like it was shattered along with my spine," shared Hansen to a captivated audience. "It hit me like a brick. I was ready to give up on the most important thing in life - hope."

After spending months in a Stryker bed that turned him every three hours, Hansen came to a realization that would change the course of his life: "I knew that if I  could start working my arms things would happen."

And so they did. Hansen tells his story with such passion that his energy is contagious. I'm certain I am not alone in saying that I had goosebumps throughout his entire presentation. It was energizing, inspiring, real.

Hansen's change of focus from stagnation to recuperation led him to his greatest obstacle: overcoming his own view of his challenges. The moment that he realized that he was still the same person, he still wanted to teach physical education to kids, and that "it's not about your legs, it's about your heart" was a pivotal one. 

As Hansen wheeled himself across the stage with varying degrees of strength that matched the tempo of his thoughts, he rolled his audience right along with him, providing inspirational nugget after inspirational nugget.

"This chair is not a symbol of disability, it's my chariot."

"It's not what happens to you, it's what you do with it."

Hansen's family and teachers never let him off the hook. They continuously inspired him to remove the handicap he was putting on himself. In turn, he encourage every teacher in the room to continue encouraging their students to follow their dreams.

Best known for his Man in Motion World Tour - a 26-month trek that logged more than 40,000 km through 34 countries and raised $26 million for SCI research and quality of life initiatives, Hansen was one of the final torchbearers in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was profiled and spoke during the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Paralympics.

Like Terry Fox, who was a close friend of his, Hansen is an international hero. His Tour taught him that no matter what, you never give up. It taught him how to shift attitudinal barriers that don't need to be there, and that shifting views is possible. As he learnt as he was carried up the Great Wall of China (which now has a wheelchair access ramp), "there are no barriers, no walls that can't be climbed."

Married with three daughters, Hansen is busy with the Rick Hansen Foundation ( which focuses on improving the quality of life for people living with SCI and other disabilities; addressing conservation and preservation of the world’s resources; creating a fully inclusive society, where every person can contribute in meaningful ways to their community. 

The Rick Hansen School Program is a comprehensive set of resources for administrators, teachers and students designed to increase disability awareness, accessibility and inclusion, and empower young people to make a difference in their school, community and the world.

Teachers and administrators say that the Program decreases bullying, improves student attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities, and results in student initiatives to improve classrooms, schools and communities. To learn more, visit

Hansen's presentation is full of genuine emotion and humour. From anecdotes of his acceptance as the first person in a wheelchair into the Phys Ed program at the University of British Columbia to bungee jumping with Rick Mercer, he made us feel like we were sitting in his living room on a casual afternoon.

Hansen continues to grow and inspire. He has moved from supporting SCI to finding a cure. "The World Health Organizations states that there are 1.3 billion people living with disabilities. We need to live while we dream for cures. We need role models and leaders to lead the way." This Man in Motion is all that, in every sense of the word, and more. He is a Difference Maker.

Visit for more information.

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