Rick Hansen, C.C., O.B.C., is a Canadian icon who has dedicated his life to awakening the world to the potential of people with disabilities. He is best known as the “Man In Motion” for undertaking an epic 26-month, 40,000 km journey around the world in his wheelchair. Now the Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation, an organization committed to creating a world without barriers for people with disabilities, Hansen uses his presentations to encourage everyone to be a difference maker and a legacy leaver.
When Hansen was 15, his life changed forever. On the way home from a fishing trip, he was in a car accident and thrown from the back of a pickup truck. Hansen injured his spinal cord and was paralyzed from the waist down. His new reality came with a lot of challenges, but with determination, a sense of humour, and a lot of heart, he found a way to keep doing the things he loved, and began to make new dreams.
In 1976, Hansen enrolled at the University of British Columbia, becoming the first person with a disability to graduate with a degree in physical education from that university. Between 1979 and 1984, Hansen turned his focus to track and marathoning, winning nineteen international wheelchair marathons, nine gold medals at the 1982 Pan Am Games, and three world championships in wheelchair racing. He also won six Paralympic medals between 1980 and 1984 — two gold medals and one silver at the 1984 Paralympic Summer Games and a gold, silver, and bronze at the 1980 Paralympic Summer Games. Hansen also competed for Canada in the 1984 Olympic Games in the 1500m wheelchair track event.
As a young athlete in a wheelchair, Hansen had a vision to show the world that anything is possible. On March 21, 1985, Hansen pushed his wheelchair out of Vancouver to set out on a journey that would make history. The Man In Motion World Tour was fueled by Hansen’s two original dreams of a world without barriers for people with disabilities and a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury. Over two years, two months, and two days, with nothing but a trailer and a passionate team of supporters, Hansen traveled across 34 countries, wheeling 40,072 kilometres before returning to Vancouver on May 22, 1987. The Tour raised $26 million and marked the beginning of an ultramarathon of social change, it altered attitudes and created a more positive image of people with disabilities.
The Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) was established in 1988, following the completion of the Man In Motion World Tour. To date, the Foundation has raised over $360 million dollars and has delivered programs that have heightened awareness, changed attitudes, and improved the quality of life for people with disabilities. In 2008, Rick and the Foundation led the creation of the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, a global collaboration of researchers and service providers dedicated to generating life-enhancing solutions for those with spinal cord injury.
For over three decades, Hansen and his team have been focused on the removal of barriers. Now RHF is rethinking how people of all ages and abilities access the spaces where we live, work, learn, and play. The Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC) is the only program that rates, certifies, and showcases accessible buildings based on their level of meaningful access for persons with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities. To date, more than 1,350 sites across Canada have been rated through the program.
Hansen is the recipient of many accolades and notable achievements including the Lou Marsh Trophy for Outstanding Athlete of the Year (an honour he shared with Wayne Gretzky in 1983), induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Honourary Colonel of the Joint Personnel Unit of the Canadian Armed Forces, torchbearer of the Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and Ambassador of the 2017 Invictus Games.
Hansen is also a contributor and catalyst to a number of books. In 1987 he co-authored Rick Hansen Man in Motion and in 2017 he collaborated on Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion Tour, a book celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Tour. He is also the inspiration for four children’s books: Boy in Motion, Roll On, The Boy Who Loved to Move, and Tale of a Great White Fish: A Sturgeon Story.