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7,000 Canadians to re-enact Rick Hansen's journey across Canada

7,000 Canadians to re-enact Rick Hansen's journey across Canada ( 2/16/2011 )

VANCOUVER - When an exhausted but triumphant Rick Hansen pushed himself into Vancouver on May 22, 1987, after circling the globe in a wheelchair for two years, the miles were all behind him but the journey was just beginning.

There can't be many who don't know what this Canadian was doing — wheeling himself through 34 countries, 40,000 kilometres of road, highway, and track in the hopes of raising money to find a cure for spinal cord injury and challenging the able-bodied to make the world an easier place for the handicapped to live in.

That odyssey of 25 years ago made him a world hero but the journey will only end for Hansen when there's a cure for the type of injury that put him in his wheelchair and the world isn't a source of frustration for the handicapped.

So how far along is he?

"About halfway. A lot of things have happened in the last 25 years and we've made amazing progress but I think it's going to take 50 years before we get there. We know we're still a long way from making those two goals," said Hansen.

As a way to boost the process, Hansen will launch The Many in Motion Relay, a re-enactment of his original Man In Motion journey from Cape Spear, Nfd., to Vancouver which was the last leg of his epic tour.

That singular 12,000 kilometre journey began on Aug. 24, 1986.

This time the journey, starting on the same day 25 years later, will be made by a relay of 7,000 Canadians chosen by the Rick Hansen Foundation or nominated by the 600 communities along the route.

The commemorative Rick Hansen medal, produced by the Canadian Mint, will be passed from hand to hand from one end of the country to the other.

Hansen said they were looking for local heroes to participate, persons who have made a difference in the lives of others.

" We're going to ask the communities to pick their champions. They'll symbolize the many hundreds of thousands of people who, because of what they have done, have been part of the journey," he said.

"We'll be asking schools to tell us who their difference makers are. We want a new generation to be aware of the original story. We want to encourage and energize this generation because they are so bright and their visions so profound. They can conceive of things we couldn't imagine 25 years ago," said Hansen.

For those celebrities that might be invited to take part it won't be a gratuitous exercise of fame-on-display.

"Anyone notable will only be there if they've made a real difference as well," he said.

The original tour raised $26 million and since then the Rick Hansen Foundation has raised over $245 million for the cause.

Hansen is planning to do as much again in just two years.

"We hope to generate $250 million in the next two years through government and private sector grants, corporate and private donations and other fund raising efforts," he said.

Ambitious? Maybe but this is someone who wheeled himself around the world and across the Prairies in winter.

As for the effect his journey has had it's obvious in Vancouver from the wheelchair accessible buses — introduced within three years of Hansen's return — to the wheelchair taxis, the curb cuts and wheelchair ramps in just about every public building and major retail store.

"Look at Stephen Fletcher from Manitoba [the first quadriplegic to serve as an MP] he'd never have got out of hospital 25 years ago, look at what he's doing. Look at [former Vancouver mayor} Sam Sullivan waving the Olympic flag in Torino in his wheelchair — who would have thought that possible back then?"