TBT: Rick Hansen joins distinguished list of Glencore Memorial Lecturers

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By Jessica Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

The inaugural Man in Motion tour took place from 1985 to 1987, about a decade or so before most of us undergraduate students were born. This likely explains why, as the Fraser auditorium filled before Rick Hansen’s lecture, there was a smattering of students spread out in the seats, but mostly the overall demographic skewed older. Still, it was clear that there was nowhere the attendees would have rather been that Thursday night on September 8, 2016.

President and Vice Chancellor Dominic Giroux gave the opening address, reminding us of the “fascinating and thought-provoking” speakers that have graced the stage over the years since the Glencore Memorial Lecture series was founded in 1978. Not surprisingly, Rick Hansen fit right in with his predecessors.

When Rick wheels into the room, he is greeted by a standing ovation. He thanked the audience profusely, and then launched into a detailed explanation of his story, beginning with him as a 15-year-old hitchhiking in the back of pick up truck that rolled right on top of him, and the words that changed his life: “You’ve broken your back and damaged your spinal cord, and you’ll never walk again.”

Hansen talked us through every barrier he came up against, explaining that the mental barriers were always more important to overcome than any physical ones. He learned to focus on the things he could do instead of the things he couldn’t, setting baby goals and realizing them little by little. One of the most important lessons he learned? To reframe problems as challenges. “And accepting help,” Hansen affirmed.

Many of the stories Hansen told were emotional and touching, from his friendship with Terry Fox to his teary-eyed retelling of the bond that formed between him and his team members during the worldwide tour. But there was also a lot of laugh-out-loud comedy that kept the crowd bright-eyed and engaged throughout the whole thing.

Every story Hansen tells highlights why he is a Canadian icon, a national treasure; he did, after all, win gold in the very first Paralympic Games. Maybe even more than through his physical feats, it’s his mantras and attitude in the face of seemingly unsurmountable challenge that drip with Canadian pride, power, and perseverance.

“One more stroke” was what kept Hansen going during the toughest distances of his tour. “Just make sure you have no regrets.” In tough times, he said, you need a team, and you need milestones.

And, as Hansen said, the end is just the beginning. The tour was over, but the dream had just begun. Hansen has, not only dreams, but concrete plans for everything from creating a global research network to encouraging the normalization of disability in local communities, all focused on changing the conversation surrounding disability.

“The chair is not a disability,” he said. “The chair is a liberating piece of technology.”

When Rick Hansen is in the room, you can’t help but be inspired and motivated and, well, moved.