Rick Hansen is a Canadian icon who has dedicated his life to creating a world that is accessible and inclusive for all. Best known as the “Man In Motion” for undertaking an epic two-year circumnavigation around the world in his wheelchair, Rick is also a four-time world champion, nine-time Pan Am gold medalist, and three-time Paralympic gold medalist. Now the CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, an organization committed to creating a world without barriers for people with disabilities, Rick uses his presentations to challenge everyone to become a difference maker and a legacy leaver. Thirty-one years ago today, Rick began his now-legendary Man in Motion World Tour, and he took a moment to reflect on what he learned from undertaking his epic journey:
Thirty-one years ago when I pushed my wheelchair out of Vancouver to begin the Man In Motion World Tour, I began a two-year journey around the world to prove the potential of people with disabilities. What I didn’t realize back then was that I was actually beginning a lifelong journey that would continue decades past the completion of the tour.
People often ask me what the most difficult part of the Man In Motion World Tour was. When I look back, it wasn’t the physical toll, braving the sometimes-punishing weather, or even when my future wife Amanda threw her salad at me and almost left the tour because I was acting like a jerk. Honestly, the most difficult part of the tour was just starting on that first day – March 21, 1985.
Today, as I reflect on the anniversary, I feel grateful that I was able to just start despite all the voices in my head telling me my dream was impossible. I know there are millions of people in the world today with their own dreams who are struggling to get started. Luckily, in 2016 people don’t have to physically travel around the world to make a global impact — we can do it from right where we’re standing (or in my case, sitting).
Whether you’re nine years old or 90 years old, you should never be afraid to try to make your dreams a reality. What I have learned over 31 years of removing barriers for people with disabilities is that there are a couple key things that can help get you there:
1. Just start
This is definitely the hardest one. It is human nature to get so caught up in talking and thinking about our goals that we psych ourselves out of taking the first step towards reaching them. Whether your dream is to write a novel, start a business or get in shape, do one thing today that will bring you closer to that goal. Then, set time in your calendar to work on your goal, even it’s just for 10 minutes a week. By writing one page, researching business names or doing just one push up, you will set yourself on a course to success.
2. Put your dream out there
That first day of the Man In Motion World Tour was such an emotional mish mash. The sendoff, people lining the streets, my family there with me — mom, dad, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, both grandmothers — and Terry Fox’s parents, Betty and Rolly Fox; it was so overwhelming.
A couple of weeks earlier, Betty had given me a statue of Terry. We wired it to the wall inside the van before we left. Terry wasn’t able to finish his own journey, but he’d be with us in spirit every mile of this one. To this day, I have this statue as a reminder to keep going on the journey to remove barriers for people with disabilities. Choose something that represents your goal, whether it’s a photo, a map or a statue and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day. Every time you look at it, think about how grateful you’ll feel when you reach your goal.
3. Don’t focus on the outcome
There are a million clichés about this one, but it’s true that “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey.” One of the reasons why people fail to start or finish their goal is because they are so focused on the outcome they forget to notice all the good (and the bad) along the way. On the Man In Motion World Tour, there were times when I never thought I would be able to wheel 40,000 kilometres. Taking it one stroke at a time enabled me to be present and stay focused on all the positivity around me and the support I was getting from all around the world.
4. Remember, the end is just the beginning
Reaching your goal can sometimes be just as scary as beginning the journey towards it. When I finished the World Tour, I came home to Vancouver where there were 50,000 people at BC Place cheering me on. As I wheeled through the finish line I looked behind me and saw a banner that said “The End is Just the Beginning” and my head nearly exploded! I had just wheeled for more than two years! I had circumnavigated the world in my wheelchair! This wasn’t the beginning, this was the end! When you reach your goal, it’s easy to sit back and rest on your laurels, feeling pretty proud of yourself. But inevitably a feeling of “Now what?” always finds its way into your head. The great thing about setting and reaching goals – of actually seeing your dreams come true – is that the experience forces you to think up new accomplishments to achieve.
For me, the end of the Man In Motion World Tour was just the beginning. In the 31 years since I decided to just start, with the help of my team at the Rick Hansen Foundation, we have achieved great change. We have shown the world that people with disabilities are capable of amazing things. We have collaborated with organizations around the world. We have removed physical and attitudinal barriers and inspired people to think differently. But we still have a lot of work to do. I am filled with gratitude, reflection and learnings as we move to the next phase of achieving our vision of a world where people with disabilities are living to their full potential.
What’s your dream?
Today, on the 31st the anniversary of the start of my Tour, I want to encourage you to dream big and go after your goals, no matter what they are. Things will happen on your life’s journey that you could never anticipate or expect – all because you took that first step. Looking back, I am so grateful I took that first stroke out of Vancouver to begin my journey.