With Rick Hansen, BPE’86, LLD’87
“Every time we reach an obstacle, we believe with all our hearts that somehow, some way, there’s a way over it, under it, around it or through it — but somehow there’s a way, we just have to find the key. We control the key.” ~ Rick Hansen.
A car crash at age 15 left him paralyzed, but Rick Hansen is known to millions of people in Canada and around the world as the Man In Motion.
Fuelled by his mantra “anything is possible” and his love of sports, he was the first person with a disability to be accepted into UBC’s Physical Education (now Human Kinetics) program. He became a decorated international wheelchair athlete, a six-time Paralympic medallist, and a man committed to making a difference though advocacy and innovation.
In 1985, as part of his quest to create an accessible and inclusive world, Hansen set out on a two-year journey that would make history: the Man in Motion World Tour. He and his team battled rugged terrain, inclement weather, illness and injury to wheel over 40,000 km through 34 countries. The epic tour raised $26 million to remove barriers and raise awareness for the potential of people with disabilities.
Today, he is CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, which is working to remove physical, social, economic and attitudinal barriers that limit those with disabilities from being fully engaged in society. The foundation has so far raised nearly $300 million to support these goals.
Hansen is a proud alumnus of UBC. The Rick Hansen Difference Maker Award in Women’s Volleyball was established in September 2014 and was created in response to a lead gift from the Rick Hansen Leadership Group.
Hansen’s contributions have been recognized with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Christopher Reeve Award, the BC Wheelchair Sports Athlete of the Century award, an alumni UBC Award of Distinction, and the Order of Canada. He holds honorary degrees from UBC and several other Canadian universities.
A small statue of my friend and hero Terry Fox that was given to me by his parents before I embarked on my Man In Motion World Tour. It reminds me to never give up and to embody Terry’s spirit and determination through every challenge.
Who was your childhood hero?
When I was young, Bobby Orr was my hockey hero. Later, my former coach Stan Stronge showed me how life with a disability could be positive instead of negative. He taught me how to make a difference, just like him.
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
The Fraser River holds a lot of significance for me. I was raised on the banks of the Fraser in Williams Lake, and today our Richmond office is on the river, as well as my home in Steveston. I am very passionate about protecting the river’s ecosystem, including my work in sturgeon and salmon conservation. It is a place where I can reflect on life, pause and appreciate nature.
What was the last thing you read?
From Good to Great by Jim Collins. It is important to continue learning, growing and applying new knowledge to life and work.
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
I laugh out loud every time I call my good friend and co-author Jim Taylor. He is one of the funniest guys I know, as well as being an incredible talent and a great human being with a big heart.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
My father taught me to never forget where you come from and who you are. It has been a reminder to stay in touch with my values and live a life of integrity.
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
The perfect day has space for the things that count the most. It starts with a decent sleep, a good breakfast and spending time with my family. Then hopefully a variety of diverse and fulfilling encounters at work — motivating, inspiring and energizing our progress towards removing barriers so people with disabilities can reach their full potential. After work, time for a workout is key to my health, then I enjoy spending the evening with my wife and any friends and family members who can make it over for dinner. Quality social time with loved ones is incredibly important.
What was your nickname at school?
My buddies used to call me Dog Face, I think because they thought I had that puppy dog look.
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
To ignite a global movement that would sustain itself for many generations to come creating and maintaining a world that is accessible and inclusive for all.
What item have you owned for the longest time?
The original wheelchair in our archives that I used in my Man In Motion World Tour.
What is your latest purchase?
A fishing lure.
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela because they stood up for their beliefs and persevered through incredible adversity and made the world a better place.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
Lived a life filled with love and meaning. Made a difference.
If you could invent something, what would it be?
I would like to invent something that would put the wheelchair in a museum.
In which era would you most like to have lived, and why?
I would love to peek around the corner and live a couple of centuries from now. I would like to be filled with as much wonder as I’m sure Christopher Columbus would feel experiencing our world today.
What are you afraid of?
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have.
I would love to be able to sing without my daughters breaking into tears because of the horror of it.
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
The Eagles, America and The Rolling Stones.
Which famous person (living or dead) do you think (or have you been told) you most resemble?
I have been mistaken for two famous people before: Christopher Reeve and Harrison Ford. Both instances happened late at night, so I think the people who mistook me for them must have been partying a little too hard.
What is your pet peeve?
I hate when people park their cars in wheelchair parking spots when they are not disabled. Also, when I go into a public washroom and every stall is empty except for the handicapped stall, and an able-bodied person walks out – it happens all the time!
What are some of your UBC highlights?
I have so many highlights from my time at UBC, beginning with becoming the first person with a disability to be accepted into the Physical Education (now Human Kinetics) program. I have so many great memories of Totem Park, surviving my first year and having so much fun. I met my lifetime friend, coach, and recent inductee into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame, Tim Frick. I loved playing sports and hanging out with my volleyball and basketball team members and being inspired to pursue excellence in track and marathoning. I always laugh when I look back to the ramp being built into our gym after I had been there for four years. I’m thankful for the decades of work with UBC in promoting accessibility as well as generating close to $100 million for spinal cord injury research. And I watched with pride as my three daughters attended UBC.