Never Give Up On Your Dreams

"I watched in awe the heroic efforts of Rick Hansen as he set out on his Man in Motion World Tour ... "

In 1985, like most Canadians at the time, I watched in awe the heroic efforts of Rick Hansen as he set out on his Man in Motion World Tour to raise awareness for spinal cord research. For the next twenty-six months I checked the news daily for updates as Hansen made his way around the globe, wheeling the equivalent of two marathons every day through thirty-four countries on four continents. We all watched in amazement as he pushed himself in his wheelchair through the most dismal of weather conditions, up and down mountains that would reduce the sturdiest and most able-bodied among us to quivering masses of jelly. He hauled himself up the Great Wall of China, over deserts and rocky terrain, enduring blizzards, freezing rain, and scorching heat as the seasons unleashed their harshest, most dramatic conditions.

Most days there was film footage of Rick Hansen on the news, his massive biceps working at a level of strength most of us can only imagine as he moved with grace and total concentration. I was particularly struck by the sight of his index finger poking through torn gloves, swollen and bandaged, bloodied from wear and tear after thousands of hours spent pushing his wheelchair.

Early in 1987, Hansen and his team were nearing the end of his Man in Motion World Tour, making their way through Ontario. On a chilly March day I joined a cheering crowd of thousands gathered along Princess Street in Kingston, Ontario to catch a glimpse of the tour. The wind off the lake sent stinging hits of icy snow in our faces, which nobody seemed to notice. I found a telephone pole to lean on while I waited; at the time I was eight months pregnant with my first child and grateful for something to lean against.

There was a celebratory air as we waited to see our national hero. And then, all of a sudden, there he was. Rick Hansen sped past us, smiling as we cheered and waved, his arms pumping their familiar rhythm as he pushed his chair through the whipping snow. I had a very real sense of being in the presence of greatness. And I vividly remember wrapping my arm around the telephone pole and crying, overcome by the enormity of the moment.

Ten years later I was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, raising a young family and working full-time as a musician. Rick Hansen was due to make a stop at the Metro Centre in Halifax to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Man in Motion World Tour. He'd be available for a meet-and-greet with the public. My admiration and hero-worship of Hansen hadn't lessened since my sighting of him in Kingston, so on the day of his appearance I slipped out on my lunch break and made my way down to the Metro Centre at top speed.

I arrived too late to hear him speak, so I satisfied myself by standing at the back of the crowd peering over heads, absorbing the excitement in the room while officials and civilians took to the stage alongside Rick Hansen. People spoke from their hearts with gratitude for all he had done—his strength and perseverance in the face of adversity. The speeches were brief, some presentations were made, and then it was announced that Rick had a half hour to spend with the crowd. I rummaged in my purse for a pen, and clutching my Man in Motion Tenth Anniversary Tour brochure, I joined the waiting crowd.

As he made his way down the ramp from the stage I was so unnerved, I considered leaving. At that moment Rick Hansen smiled and extended his hand to a young man in a wheelchair and I watched, fascinated, as the two men began to talk. Rick's focus was so complete, his interest so genuine, it was as though they were the only people in the room.

I managed to pull myself together, and reminded myself that here was a person who had pushed himself around the world in a wheelchair to further a cause he believed in. The least I could do was to gather my courage and thank him for doing so!

Along with everyone else in the room I fell under Rick Hansen's spell, his ability to put people at ease, and his genuine interest in their stories. One woman wept as she spoke to him; he held her hand and smiled his encouragement, not once breaking eye contact with her as she struggled to find the words. A tall, strapping man warmly shook Rick's hand and thanked him. He had broken his back in an industrial accident a decade earlier. "I'm one of the lucky ones," he said before shaking Rick's hand and walking away. Rick nodded and smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.

And then Rick Hansen turned and looked directly at me. He held out his hand — the very hand that had pushed him in his wheelchair up the Great Wall of China and around the world. I looked at that well-muscled hand, the index finger bearing scars from his journey, scars I had seen as open wounds on news clips ten years earlier. He smiled as I took his hand and shook it.

To my complete surprise, I was calm and articulate. Like the others before me I spoke from my heart. I told him that in March of 1987 I had stood on Princess Street in Kingston, Ontario, vast with child, weeping as he wheeled by with his entourage. I added that some magic dust must have flown up from his wheels and landed on us, because there we were, ten years later, my daughter—that very same daughter— recently diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and taking the changes in her life in stride, making the best of a lousy situation. I thanked Rick for his example, and told him that our whole family had taken inspiration from him, a man who had become a paraplegic at age fifteen in an accident.

At which point Rick Hansen smiled and thanked me — me! — and asked me to wish my daughter all the best. Then he signed my brochure for my two children: To Tamsyn and Avery—Never give up on your dreams!

I'm pleased to say that they haven't.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of Canada: 101 Stories of Love & Gratitude © 2017 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

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