I’ve been reading about Glen Jack and the unbelievably harsh treatment this poor man suffered at the hands of “men of God” who are nothing but low life trash! The experiences Glen and so many others had to undergo in Canada’s residential school system are incredible.
And you know, while there is no direct comparison, and I’m not trying to draw one, this does cause me to think about Rick Hansen and the cruel hand he was dealt as a 15-year-old. Both Glen's and Rick' stories make me realize how fortunate I have been in my life.
Rick, who you likely know better as the “Man in Motion”, was simply travelling in the back of a pickup truck following an afternoon of fishing when the vehicle was struck by another. Rick was thrown from the truck and sustained a spinal cord injury. Since that fateful day almost 50 years ago, Rick has been paralyzed from the waist down.
I had the honour to interview Rick for my new book, “Pushing The Boundaries!” and he told me about the awesome Man in Motion Tour he embarked on, a two-year wheelchair trip around the world. 25,000 miles through 34 countries.
“You know Peter,” Rick explained, “that accident walked me right into the most defining circumstance to really test whether the nature of pushing boundaries was going to be applied and whether it could be accentuated and sharpened, or whether it was just a fanciful youth activity. So that was where I really had to push the internal boundaries of my life because clearly I didn't have any view of what it was like to have a handicap or disability. Never knew anyone in my small rural community where I was raised. So I had a set of internal handicaps and biases about what having a disability was all about. And what a whole, empowered human being was about: I mean, I thought it was about being completely independent, about being completely physically intact and, as an athlete, defined by use of your legs... so I think I had to push my own boundaries. I realized I was trapped in my thinking and it caused a lot of pain and suffering. It wasn't until I discovered the source of that pain and started to re-examine things that made me re-establish a framework that was more enabling and helped me realize that I didn't need to be cured in order to be whole... and that I could keep being the adventurer... keep pushing those boundaries... keep being the athlete and the pioneer that I always wanted to be but just do it differently. That's when the world really shifted for me and I was able to keep stretching out."
It was at this moment in our conversation that Rick made a unique admission to me that was stunning. Of course, being up front and able to make such a confession is a testament to his honesty and straightforward approach to life.
"Back then," he told me, "I had a real negative attitude and bias towards people with disabilities. I didn't know anyone with a serious handicap and I thought, if you have a disability, that must really suck and people should be pitied and just hope for a good life." He told me about a young man in his school who had polio and was walking on braces and crutches. "I remember going down the stairs and he was struggling up, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, the poor guy. Not much hope for that guy. And thank God it's not me!' But when it came my turn to be the guy in the wheelchair 6-8 months later, I said to myself, 'Poor guy' doesn't even cover it. I mean there I was, all of my hopes and dreams… shattered."
Rick was a major sports enthusiast and his dream was to be an athletic participant, whether as a player or a coach or a teacher. But I had to ask him, “Rick, at the time of the accident and recognizing the life you'd been left, did you have to overcome anger?"
There was no hesitation. "Absolutely! Anger towards the driver. Anger towards myself. Anger towards God. And that notion of forgiveness became, in many ways, the gauntlet to run down because the anger was just going to be a ball and chain that was going to hold me back. I had to find a way to reconcile that."
Rick's way to go forward was to take responsibility for his actions. And to forgive people who weren't intending to hurt him. He had to acknowledge it truly was an accident.
"Ultimately to take up the fundamental question was the next step," he told me. "Given that you can't change how you will now use your legs, can you change how you view your circumstances going forward? So I started to find little examples of how this could be a possibility and an opportunity and take baby steps ahead. Awkwardly. Feeling self-conscious, Vulnerable. Emotional. Raw. Taking those first steps into experiences that made me uncomfortable. And then getting to realize it wasn't so bad and that there was actually great beauty in those moments and endeavours, precious friendships, relationships, laughter, camaraderie, love... and then you ask yourself, well, what more is there?"
There certainly has been so much more. Far beyond the Man In Motion worldwide tour, Rick has been active in establishing the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) that, for over three decades, has raised awareness, changed attitudes and funded spinal cord injury research and care.
Did you know that roughly one in five Canadians identify as having a disability? That number is growing as our population ages. And so the RHF is working on breaking down one of the most fundamental barriers that people with disabilities still face: physical barriers in the places where we live, work, learn and play.
Rick’s story is amazing and the time I spent with him was special. There’s so much more that he and I covered in our conversation, and if you’d like to discover added facts about Rick Hansen, check out Chapter 9 of “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life”. I know you’ll be inspired to overcome your own angst about moving your life to the next level. More at pushingtheboundaries.life