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.

Conversations with...Rick

May 22 celebrates the 27th anniversary of the end of the original Man In Motion World Tour. In this blog, Rick Hansen reminisces on the day that changed his life, the people who made a difference, the progress since then, and the challenges still faced by the physically disabled.


My life changed forever as a teenager when I was thrown from a pick-up truck.

I was paralyzed and spent more than six months in hospital and rehab, wondering what would become of my life.

Not only did I not know anyone with a spinal cord injury, but I, too, had to overcome my own attitude toward the disabled and the very real barriers they — and now I — faced.

Little did I know then that my spinal cord injury was the start of an incredible journey, one that I would never change if I had a chance to do it over again.
My journey began with small goals and focusing on what I still could do like being able to use my arms.  I had the nurse strap rubber bands to the side of the bed so I could start to get back in motion again. 

Building momentum, I was then able to sit up in my hospital bed for my 16th birthday, seeing the smiling faces of the people I was sharing the room with. 
And using a wheelchair that would be my vehicle to live my life, to play wheelchair basketball, race in marathons, and fulfil my potential as an athlete, eventually representing Canada internationally.

What I most remember looking back are the people: my parents, friends and teachers who helped me through life, school and sports. They gave me hope, support and inspiration, which eventually led to my big dream. They were my difference makers.

With a small team and a few friends — one who eventually became my wife and mother of our three children — we decided to wheel around the world to raise awareness and money for people with spinal cord injuries and the disabled.

We started slowly, but by the end of it — two years, two months and two days and 40,000 kilometres later — thousands of people were right there along with us, giving us whatever they could afford to support the dream.

As far as we’ve come, our best work remains ahead of us.


So much has changed for the better for the disabled in 27 years: perceptions, attitudes, accessibility, best practices for the newly injured so they're treated as quickly as possible, and far more inclusion in business, the arts, and sports.  And there are so many more people with disabilities today who are role models.

Until the day comes when we can relegate wheelchairs to museums so they are no longer needed because we have found a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury, we must create a more accessible world for those who live with disabilities.

As a society we are aging — and with that comes challenges in mobility, in cognition, in sight, in hearing, and even affordability. Today, about one in seven — or 4.4 million — Canadians lives with a disability. By 2030, that number will grow to 1 in 5 with a disability. Around the world, one billion people live with a physical or cognitive disability.


If there is one thing I’ve learned travelling across Canada and around the world over the last quarter of a century it’s that anyone can make a difference.

Regardless of your age, background or station in life, we all hold the power to make a difference.

When you make sure that someone in a wheelchair can get into a building and fully participate, when you build the societal understanding that someone with a disability is an equal, you are making a difference by creating an accessible world.

Difference Making — or paying it forward — has been the root of my philosophy. Difference Makers should be embraced and celebrated.

My hope is that more people join me on this journey to remove barriers and help make the world accessible and inclusive for all.

Rick Hansen is founder and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, a charitable organization with a mission to create a world without barriers for the physically disabled. Join Rick on Twitter @RickHansenFdn and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rickhansenfdn.






Conversation with...George Stroumboulopoulos

Rick Hansen recently got a chance to speak with George Stroumboulopoulos, Canadian television and radio personality, best known as the host of the CBC Television talk show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight about his thoughts on celebrity, difference making and what truly matters in life.

Rick Hansen and Strombo

Rick Hansen:
You’ve interviewed people from around the world who have made a difference. Is there someone who stood out for you and why?

George Stroumboulopoulos: I like interviewing people who recognize their responsibility to others. I’ve interviewed Michael J. Fox several times. He has found a way to communicate his reality to people in a way I’ve never seen, it’s incredible. And of course you Rick have always been fantastic—so interesting, so thoughtful—I’ll admit right now I had a poster of you up on my wall when I was a kid, you’ve always inspired me. I also had a very moving interview with June Callwood, a beautiful soul, just a week before she died. That is available online; that’s an interview I’ll always remember. The more ‘interesting rooms’ I’ve been in, the more the commonality and threads become interesting. Of the really common threads of groundbreakers is that they are people who make their lives about service to others. People who do this are by far the most fulfilled, interesting and happy people I’ve come across. Never mind the fact that it’s just good to do it—your life is actually so much better if you spend less time focusing on yourself. I’ve been interviewing people for 20 years now and I would say that those who serve others are unquestionably the most enriched and least lonely.

George Stroumboulopoulos

Who has impacted you during your life most? Who would you consider to be your difference maker?

GS: My mom. I was raised by a single mom in what we jokingly referred to as ‘complicated neighbourhoods.’ There are a lot of things we don’t agree on but what she gave me was this idea of doing everything with love. She hammered it into me to always operate from a position of love and gratitude. She was a teenager when she was pregnant with me. She had no education and three jobs—she delivered the Toronto Star at 4 am and would come back and make me breakfast and send me off to school and go work at this really sketchy greasy spoon in the deep fryer area. She’d grab shifts at Baskin Robbins when she could. In the summertime she couldn’t afford a babysitter so she would take me into the library and ask the librarians to keep an eye on me. At lunch she would come get me and we’d eat together, and then before she’d head off to another job she would take me to the Central Park Lodge, an assisted living home. She’d tell me to find an elderly person and to keep them company—just by being in the room, just by listening. This is the stuff she would keep beating with love into my head, that your only real value in this world is based on how you are to others. “Listen,” she told me once, “You’re special to me but you’re not special—and that’s good. You want a good name people respect through your action. You’re not better and not worse than anyone.” And she was right.
What is it that calls to you to apply your celebrity status and talent as an incredible talk show host to make Canada and the world a better place?

GS: I don’t know that I think of it in that sense. You get a lot of undue attention when you’re the face of something. There’s a whole team and a lot of luck that goes into it. I’m largely uncomfortable with the celebrity focus. It’s a white hot light and if you don’t deflect it you will burn up under it; you don’t need it. I simply believe it’s my duty to be there for others as a part of the species—it’s the right thing to do as a human.
You are a great study of people and character, what are some of the qualities you admire in people and would like to share with others?

GS: Humility. Gratitude. I really value calmness. I think that people are pretty wonderful when they’re calm. There’s value in frenetic energy too but someone who can remain calm and focused is someone really connected. All I strive for in my life is to be present. When you see it in others it’s really valuable. In dire situations you don’t just need empathy, you need to BE there.

George Stroumboulopoulos B&W

RH: You are about to make a big career transition to host Hockey Night in Canada. Congratulations! What are you most excited about for your new role?

GS: If you were to tell me 40 years ago I’d have been the host I’d have laughed. I’ve had ten seasons of my show and now I’m ready to start something new. I didn’t ever want to be defined by my job and I felt that that may have inadvertently happened. I needed a change of some kind but I didn’t want to leave my show because I love it. So I thought to myself... where is TV even going? Then I realized the one thing I’ll always keep cable for: hockey. Sports are cultural. I actually started out as a sports reporter, so in a way it’s all full circle.

RH: Thank you George, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck in the new job, we’ll be watching!
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