I’ve been really lucky to have been given some amazing opportunities in my life. On Friday, May 18th, I had the pleasure of being a Difference Maker medal bearer for the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay, in Coquitlam, BC on day 269 of the relay.
I got up super early to be at the rendezvous point for 7 am, so I could change into my relay uniform, meet the other medal bearers in my group and then board the shuttle to be taken to where my leg of the relay started. Before I knew it, Bob, a middle school teacher had arrived and was passing the medal to me. The official medal was made by the Royal Canadian Mint and was created from almost a pound of silver, so it was heavy, but really, really beautiful. On one side there was the imprint of the glove Rick Hansen wore when wheeling around the world in his original Man In Motion Tour.
After my relay segment, I jumped into my car and zoomed up Thermal Drive, which was an epic part of Rick’s initial tour. Thermal Drive was mistakenly mapped out as the quickest way from point A to point B, 25 years ago. The person planning the route for the Man in Motion tour didn’t realize it was a punishing 1.6 km steep and winding hill and that segment was almost cancelled, but Rick decided what better way to illustrate overcoming obstacles than to concur one this big? That climb became legend and now 25 years later, he was going to tackle it again, along with Difference Makers from several of the local high schools. I’ve driven up and down that hill, weekly for years and though of him every single time so it was really something to see him wheeling up that hill with my own eyes. He moved slowly, but with great force to the summit, thousand of people cheering him on and following him up the hill. It felt like the power of our belief in him gave him momentum. It was incredibly moving.
Later that afternoon, I drove out to Burnaby for the End of Day Celebration, where Rick would be speaking. Afterwards, he invited all the Difference Makers up to the stage for a group photo. When we were done, Rick half turned in his chair and spoke to me. He put his hand out and thanked me for being a part of the relay and for the important work that I do. I was glad I had my sunglasses on because behind them, my eyes were full of tears. I leaned down and thanked him for including me in the relay and then, I realized I had something else to thank him for.
I took a deep breath so I could get the words out and thanked him for the nomination by his foundation for the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. I explained to him that it would be an honour under any circumstances to be nominated, but having that nomination come from his foundation was doubly meaningful to me. He crossed his fingers and said “Fingers crossed you get it!”
I was kind of reeling from our exchange, so I stepped back and a fellow Difference Maker came up to him and asked to take a photo with him. A light bulb went off in my head: when was I ever going to get this chance again? So after she was done, I politely asked him if it would be okay for me to get a photo with him as well and he said yes, almost before I could finish asking. I handed my camera to a someone standing nearby and Rick reached out to put his arm around my shoulder, so I crouched down and put my arm around him. I am so glad I have this photo. It means everything to me.
It’s a funny thing when you admire someone so much and then the moment comes and you finally get to meet them. You always wonder if they are going to be who you think they are, or if you’re going to be disappointed-people tend to build famous people up in their minds and they almost never turn out to be who you thought they were. I can honestly say that with Rick Hansen, what you see is what you get. He exudes kindness. When he shakes your hand, he looks you square in the eye and you know that he is 100% present in that moment. He really sees you. He is humble and genuine.
I don’t have many personal heroes and the ones I do have I admire because they are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things with their lives. They are people of great kindness and compassion, people who have shown great courage in the face of soul crushing adversity and who have used their lives to better the human condition. They are people of substance whose living examples have guided and informed my own life.
Rick Hansen lives at the top of that list.
Speaking of lists, I am incredibly happy that I can cross one more thing off my life’s to-do list:
- Meet Rick Hansen