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Steep climb still no problem for Rick Hansen

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25 years on, Man in Motion conquers Coquitlam’s Thermal Drive, again

The steepest hill on Rick Hansen’s 25th-anniversary relay tour was lined with thousands of onlookers as Hansen and his team of “difference makers” climbed the monstrous Thermal Drive that stretches from Port Moody into Coquitlam on Friday.

“Oh man, I tell you what, that was a hill,” Hansen said once he reached the top. “You forget after all those years how steep it was. – You think you’ve made it, and you go ‘Oh no!’ ”

Thermal Drive was the most difficult climb in Hansen’s original tour. It is broken into three different sections, each one steeper than the last.

“All you can do, like in life, is take it one stroke at a time,” Hansen said. “Feel the love and support.”

Unlike 25 years ago, Hansen didn’t face the hill alone. At his side the whole time was wheelchair endurance athlete Tyrone Henry, 18, who has joined Hansen on other legs of the tour.

“This was probably the toughest challenge,” Henry said.

“This one’s definitely a highlight for me, and I’m definitely glad I could finish it.”

Henry is paralyzed from the waist down, the result of a spinal cord injury received in a car accident in late 2010. While rehabilitating in hospital, Henry said he was inspired by Hansen’s original tour.

“I heard about his story, I learned more about him, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do all these things, I’m not restricted by my injury,’ ” he said.

Like Hansen, Henry is passionate about sports. He has worked hard to become an accomplished wheelchair athlete and sit-skier, and dreams of one day representing Canada in sledge hockey on the world stage. But for now, his part in the 25th-anniversary tour will hold a special place in his heart. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he said.

Henry and Hansen were followed by at least 2,400 middle school students, who sporadically screamed “Go Rick Go!” and held signs painted with various inspirational slogans, including Anything is Possible and Follow Your Heart.

Sarah Richardson, 58, said she was amazed by the enthusiasm of Hansen’s younger fans. “All these kids haven’t a clue what happened 25 years ago, but they’re still totally behind him and think he’s a rock star.”

Luba Ndlnovu, 14, is one of those fans. She walked behind Hansen holding up the Moody middle school banner for the first part of the leg, and said she was incredibly proud to be a part of the event.

“Since he had this accident – and he was never able to walk again, he started using a wheelchair and he went across the world – that was inspirational. I’ve never heard anybody do that,” she said.

Although Ndlnovu is too young to have witnessed Hansen’s first Thermal Drive climb 25 years ago, many other onlookers still remember that day.

“25 years ago, I was 10 years old … I stood along Thermal Drive and watched Rick Hansen come up,” said Heritage Minister James Moore. Hansen, Moore continued, is a Canadian hero, and someone all Canadians can be proud of.

Thermal Drive has become a symbol for how challenging Rick Hansen’s original tour was. The status, Hansen said, was earned by accident.

“It was a mistake,” he said. “The crew members came to me about five months in advance and said, ‘We didn’t realize when we created the route that this hill was so steep, and we should reroute and avoid that hill.’ ” However, Hansen – not known to back down from a challenge – kept the hill in the route plan and decided to once again scale Thermal Drive for the tour’s 25th anniversary.

“This is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago. Beautiful weather, wonderful people, except it’s not one man in motion, it’s many in motion.”

The 25th-anniversary tour ends in Vancouver on May 22.

The Sun is publishing a series of stories to mark the completion this month of the Rick Hansen 25th anniversary relay tour.

By Kim Nursall, Vancouver Sun; Source: Rick Hansen Foundation
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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