My friend Heather (I wrote about Heather awhile back… she gave us a unique summer gift of two caterpillars called Leafy and Gizmo) suffered a stroke on her 51st birthday. It’s been six months now, and Heather is struggling to regain some use of her left arm and leg.
A virtual team of supporters are ensuring that she gets to her physiotherapy, aquatherapy and a host of other appointments.
I’m the Wednesday morning person.
So here I was last Wednesday in my car, with my Timmy in my cup holder and my car headed to Aurora. And I thought I might give myself a gift and catch a little CBC. And there is Andy Berry, talking with Rick Hansen about a new high school in Mississauga bearing his name and being christened that day.
It was an interesting interview. Rick explained that while he appreciates the honour of having a school named after him (and there are three in Canada now), it only happens after he approves the design, layout, coordination and user friendliness of the building to people with special needs. Rick demands accessibility everywhere in “his” high schools… elevators to upper and lower levels, extra wide washroom doors, entrance and hallway doors that are electronically operated,physed shower stalls that allow a wheelchair athlete into them. Rick shared with his listeners how he was sent to the library by the physed teacher in his Williams Lake high school, rather than
have access to any facilities requiring his physical use.
I wonder if the physed teacher remembers this, in light of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion wheelchair tour of the world.
But, for me the most interesting part of the interview was Andy Berry’s question, “do you wish this had never happened to you, Rick? Do you wish you could still walk?”
And Hansen’s answer, paraphrased, went like this. Actually, it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Without it there would be no Man in Motion Tour, no Man in Motion Institute, no increased funding for paralysis research, less increased awareness for the need for universal
accessibility. Colour coded hallways for visually impaired, devices that assist the hearing impaired. There’d be much less awareness.
He said he looks at his life today and realizes that it’s rich beyond his imagination because of his accident and his lower body paralysis. And he’s shown the world that a world class athlete can achieve the unthinkable, no matter what disability the outside world chooses to view him with. He said he looks every day at his wife and his three little daughters and knows he’s
the luckiest man alive.
And the interview ended, with St Elmo’s Fire and David Foster’s tribute song to Rick Hansen that we all knew so well 15 years ago.
And while the song was blazing, higher and higher on the car stereo, I turned down Heather’s street, and pulled into her driveway, making my way up her stairs, past the wheelchair ramp, and into the living room where my friend sat, cane at side, wheelchair ready, swim bag packed… waiting.
And I thought about the hundreds of people in our community who marshall their courage, like Heather is, on a daily basis, to re-work their lives, to create new achievements where before there were only opportunities. As I watch my friend learn how to peel a carrot with one hand, how to open a can, how to do virtually everything she can for herself, I see the grit of determination, and the enthusiasm and courage that fired our national hero a few short years ago.
There are lots of these heroes that won’t ever have high schools named after them. But, on Wednesday morning I really felt that Rick Hansen was speaking for them all.
Thanks, Rick. Thanks, Heather.