Saskatchewan commits $4.3M to spinal injury research

The Government of Saskatchewan is taking a leadership role too, by committing $4.3 million for a Saskatchewan-based initiative, in partnership with the national Rick Hansen Institute, to help with spinal cord research and disability funding.

The announcement was made on Tuesday in Regina, with Hansen, a B.C. native, attending.

The funding will also help commemorate the 25th anniversary of Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour. The mid-1980s tour saw Hansen travel more than 40,000 kilometres in 34 countries and raise $26 million for spinal cord research.

For the 25th anniversary and to celebrate the $250 million that has been raised in the last quarter-century, Hansen is planning a crossCanada relay celebration, which is slated for 2012.

Rick Hansen was 15 and had dreams of representing his country at the Olympics, but when a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, his outlook on life changed forever.

“When I had my injury, I thought all my hopes and dreams were shattered,” said Hansen, 53.

But after learning about wheelchair sport, Hansen had a new appreciation for life.

“Nowhere in the definition of an athlete does it say you have to use your legs in order to be one,” he said. “All of my hopes and dreams were waiting for me.”

Now, 38 years after the accident and three Paralympic gold medals later, Hansen is trying to enhance the lives of “young Rick Hansens.”

“Instead of me wheeling the original route again, we’re asking 7,000 participants to be able to actually take a medallion from coast-to-coast and pass it to each other, unifying the country and transforming this from one person’s journey, to a nation’s journey,” said Hansen on Tuesday.

Saskatchewan is the second province behind B.C. to commit to funding. Hansen said raising awareness will help create a change.

“If I’m going to complete the original dream of a cure for spinal cord injury, we need to have every province ensuring that their best researchers are thinking and applying their knowledge and energy towards discoveries,” he said.

June Draude, social services minister, said she was delighted to be able to contribute.

“It’s hugely important, not just the action were doing today, but the message we’re sending for tomorrow about how the involvement of people with disabilities is important to our government and for our province for creating the tomorrow that we all need,” said Draude.

Bill Hutchinson, minister of tourism, parks, culture and sport, said it’s important to make sure people with disabilities have all the opportunities others have.

“What these inter-related programs that have been proposed by the Rick Hansen Institute will allow us to do is provide much better accessibility to people with disabilities to these programs,” said Hutchinson. “That’s the bottom line. That’s what it’s all about.”

The funding is divided amongst four areas:

– $1 million from the Ministry of Health for spinal cord injury related research,

– $500,000 from the Ministry of Social Services in new funding for the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Saskatchewan,

– $500,000 from the Office of the Provincial Secretary to the Clayton Gerein Legacy Fund, and

– $2.3 million from the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport and Sask. Sport Inc. to help fund disability sports organizations, high performance disability athletes and accessible playgrounds.

By Taylor Shire, Leader-Post

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