Building a healthy, inclusive world

Rick's Blog

In this new blog series Rick will talk about what’s going on at the Foundation and in his life. He will also interview friends and colleagues who are, in Rick's eyes, real Difference Makers.

Conversation with...Bif Naked

Rick Hansen recently chatted with Canadian singer-songwriter, actress and motivational speaker Bif Naked about her thoughts on what it takes to overcome challenges, be a force for good in the world and truly make a difference.

Bif Naked and Rick Hansen

Rick Hansen: Bif, you went through a very challenging time when you faced a cancer diagnosis. What advice would you give to someone facing huge, seemingly insurmountable obstacles?

Bif Naked: When facing huge challenges, remembering to "respond" and not "react" is always the key. As humans we are all naturally quick to panic in crisis situations. Our natural instincts take over, often in a fear-based way. My own personal challenges were easier for me to deal with when I remembered to stay calm and reminded myself to ‘stop’ if I felt like I was panicking.


RH: When you went through cancer, who were the people who stuck with you?

BN: Cancer and many other family or health challenges tend to "weed-out-the-weeds.” Some friends step up, while others seem to step back. It's almost never personal. Some people just feel too badly for you and don't know what to say or do, or feel so awkward that they avoid you. Some people simply are not capable of assisting or being supportive and that is okay. Other people do, somehow, find extra strength for you or for your family and it seems to balance out. Other patients and other patients’ families became much of my support network.


RH: What did this experience teach you about your friendships and social connections?

BN: Everything in our lives occurs to teach us. We learn about people and even about ourselves. Challenges and struggle always teach me so much. I wind up in a place of deep gratitude for the lessons—even if they were lessons in patience or non-judgment due to unwelcome events. I always learn more.

Bif Naked


RH: What helped you get through the tough times?

BN: Getting through tough times is different for everyone—we all have various coping techniques. My faith in people and in myself never fails me. Ever. This may be an emotional metaphor for faith in "Love," in "The Universe," or even for "God," but my faith in a positive outcome never lets me down. I am a total optimist and will always find the good in absolutely anything. Also, telling jokes to the chemo nurses while they hook-up your surgical port to the IV really helps. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Bif Naked


RH: Do you have a motto in life?

BN: Be Kind. Always.


RH: You’ve done a lot of volunteering. What kind of impact are you trying to make on the world? How has volunteering impacted you?

BN: I volunteer quite by accident. I didn't actually even know I was volunteering. I am simply recognizing a need and making myself available to meet that need. I can't help myself, and wish I could do this work full-time. I love people and I love to try and support others whether they be "rookie" (newly diagnosed) breast cancer patients, or palliative patients and families. I often discover people need some extra support, whether it is companionship, talking through what I went through, during my own treatment, or leading a prayer or gratitude meditation. I try to be available for everyone I can. Sometimes it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to connect with everyone who needs a friend. But I always try.

Bif Naked


RH: What defines community?

BN:  Community, to me, is our chosen environment and people. I say chosen because it's about the people and the places that collectively support and uplift each other.


RH: What inspires you?

BN: Everything inspires me. Everything. I love life and I think everything from the eyelashes on chickens to the taste of bananas to the sounds of kids laughing are real blessings on any given day. If we can consistently notice these simple things every day, we can never be sad or unkind. That is inspiring and motivating.


RH:  In your mind, what is a difference maker?

BN: Everyone is a difference maker. Each one of us has the power and the ability to impact each others in such a tremendous way. I believe most



RH: What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue career in music?

BN: Any career, whether it is music, dishwashing, or truck driving, is worth pursuing if it’s your dream. Never give up, stop, or quit. Keep going and believe in yourself and in your dreams. The joy and passion is in the pursuit of that dream. That passion never goes away, no matter how many years you keep trying. Even I keep trying and keep dreaming. That’s half the fun!





Rick Hansen’s Top 5 Paralympic Moments

Rick Hansen has been a passionate supporter of the Paralympic Games as a competitor and ambassador for over 30 years, and in that time has witnessed the Paralympic movement make significant strides. Today there are exceptional opportunities for athletes and a close integration between the Paralympic Games and the Olympic Games. “The quality of the athletic performances and the talent and training we’re seeing today are at an exceptional level,” says Rick.

“Sport is a mirror to how society views itself and if we’re able to reflect back on these values we can see that there is real room for inclusivity and a world without barriers. There are no black and white solutions for athletes with disabilities to express themselves locally, nationally and globally but no matter what model is offered I believe it's important to support events that continue to emphasize the ability of the athletes.”

In this piece Rick takes us for a ride down memory lane as he revisits his top five Paralympic moments of all time.

Rick’s Paralympic Moment: 1, Arnhem, 1980

Having the chance to be in Arnhem, Holland in 1980 for my first Paralympics was a huge experience. It was my first time through Europe and incredible to see how people in the Netherlands looked up to Canadians, largely because of our contribution during WWI and WWII. I was an underdog coming in to these Games and I had a lot of help from my coach and support from the UBC Engineers, who’d helped me build my wheelchair. The race was dramatic—it came down to literally just the last 100-meter sprint, where I was in third or fourth place. Somehow I found the energy to surge to the very end at the right moment and edge out the frontrunner by about one hundredth of a second. When I won the gold medal, it was such a phenomenal moment. Everything came together and it reinforced that dreams really do come true if you believe and persevere.

Rick’s Paralympic Moment: 2, Stoke Mandeville, 1984

André Viger, Mel Fitzgerald and Rick Hansen on the podium for marathon medals in the 84 Paralympics
The Paralympics in 1984 were in Stoke Mandeville, England. Leading up to that competition, I was at the top of my game. But then something changed. I started to slack off just a little bit. I lost four races in the year leading up to the 1984 Games, one in Japan, one in Boston and one in Miami and one in Montreal. Then disaster struck. I crashed while test-driving a new wheelchair for one of my marathon events and dislocated my left shoulder. Doctors wrote me off for recovering in time for the Games, and I was devastated. I only had two months to prepare. I had to dig deep and make some tough decisions. Would I give in to other people’s expectations or refuse to yield? I did everything humanly possible to help my shoulder recover in time for the New York exhibition event. My coach was instrumental in helping me chart a course to stay fit. I was introduced to Amanda, now my wife, who did a great job treating my shoulder and was an incredible source of inspiration.

During the Paralympic race, two other Canadian competitors, André Viger and Mel Fitzgerald, and I were all neck and neck. Eventually André dropped off and it was just Mel and I jockeying back and forth for the last third of the marathon. We came into the stadium and sprinted down the stretch, and I had enough in the tank to beat Mel and win the gold. It was Paralympic history because it was the very first wheelchair marathon, and how amazing it was that Canada placed first, second and third.

Rick Hansen at the 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremonies.

Rick’s Paralympic Moment: 3, Vancouver 2010

At these very special hometown Games I had the honour of taking the flame in to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, signaling that this was the opening to both the Olympics and the Paralympics. This was the first Games where the two events were organizationally merged, and to me it symbolized our progress as an inclusive society. The 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games showed that people with disabilities have no boundaries in this world. They can dream, achieve and excel. Bringing in the flame to kick off the Games was an incredibly proud moment for me and for Vancouver. How powerful and reflective of our values to be celebrating such a moment in the same city where my Man In Motion tour had begun 25 years before.

Rick Hansen Paralympic torch bearer

Rick’s Paralympic Moment: 4, Vancouver 2010

Being selected as a Paralympic torchbearer during the Paralympic relay was an amazing honour. After all my connections to the Games over the years, it felt like coming full circle to carry the torch and for me this was just such an incredibly proud moment. The crowd was alight with excitement and it felt like this was the beginning of one of the best, most inclusive Games ever. While carrying that torch I was swept up in the phenomenal energy but also very clear that here we were, breaking down barriers and helping to build awareness around the Paralympic Games—and that these Games were open, inclusive and accessible to all, both athletes and volunteers, and run seamlessly with the Olympics, a first in Paralympic history.  

Rick’s Paralympic Moment: 5, Vancouver 2010

Rick Hansen at the 2010 Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. Photo by: Patrick Roberge One of my favourite memories from being at the opening ceremonies at the Paralympic Games was getting to formally welcome the athletes. In that moment I got to express how important these Games were to Canada and how incredibly inclusive and symbolic they were; how they represented Canada’s values and progress. Using the Games as a metaphor, 25 years ago in the eyes of the IOC, the Paralympic Games were very segregated, not anywhere near their orbit. The year after I completed my Man In Motion tour, the 1988 Olympics were held in Calgary. It was wonderful to have a very small role in that opening ceremonies when the flame came in, however there were no Paralympic Games in Calgary. The notion of having the two Games in the same host city was a pipe dream. It seemed like it would never happen. The thought of having the same organizing committee put to both Games—as opposed to saying “here’s you’re A team and here’s your B team,” didn’t even seem possible. But this Winter Olympics was the first year with double-branding, with sponsors saying they were proudly sponsoring both the Olympics and Paralympics. The exposure of the Paralympics is only growing, and this welcoming speech was a moment to step back and look at the big picture, to celebrate the true global community we are becoming together and the difference that each of us can make. Sport is such a powerful metaphor for rising above challenges and championing the best in yourself. These Games are not about fragility, they are about athleticism, talent and making a difference.

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