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Rick Hansen in June 2014
Rick Hansen in June 2014

Richard Marvin "Rick" Hansen CC OBC (born August 26, 1957) is a Canadian track and field athlete (Paralympic Games), activist, and philanthropist for people with disabilities. Following a pickup truck accident at the age of 15, Hansen sustained a spinal cord injury and became a paraplegic. Hansen is most famous for his Man in Motion World Tour. He was inducted into the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.[1] He was one of the final torchbearers in the 1988 Winter Olympics and the 2010 Winter Olympics.[2] He was profiled and spoke during the 2010 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony.[3]

Early life

Born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Rick Hansen grew up in Williams Lake, British Columbia. As a young athlete, he had won all-star awards in five sports. He was paralyzed at the age of 15 from being in the back of a truck with his friend, when suddenly the pick up truck swerved and hit a tree. He left the bed of the truck from the impact and sustained a spinal cord injury. He worked on rehabilitation, completed high school, then became the first student with a physical disability to graduate in physical education from the University of British Columbia. Hansen won national championships on wheelchair volleyball and wheelchair basketball teams. He went on to become a world class champion wheelchair marathoner and Paralympic athlete. He competed in wheelchair racing at both the 1980 and 1984 Summer Paralympics, winning a total of three gold, two silver, and one bronze medal.[4] Hansen won 19 international wheelchair marathons, including three world championships. He also coached high school basketball and volleyball. Rick had a very close relationship with his family, especially with his father and grandfather, with whom he enjoyed frequent fishing trips.

Man in Motion World Tour

In 1980, fellow British Columbian and Canadian athlete Terry Fox, who had lost a leg to bone cancer, undertook the Marathon of Hope, intending to run across Canada from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island to raise awareness for cancer research. He made it from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Thunder Bay, Ontario, before a cancer recurrence forced him to stop, about half of the way through his journey. Inspired by Terry's courage, Hansen decided to undertake a similar journey to prove the potential of people with disabilities and to inspire a more accessible world. But his planned path was far more ambitious: he planned to circle the world in his wheelchair.

He embarked on his Man in Motion World Tour on March 21, 1985, from Oakridge Mall in Vancouver. Although public attention was low at the beginning of the tour, he soon attracted international media attention as he progressed on a 26-month trek, logging more than 40,000 km through 34 countries on four continents before crossing Canada. He returned to Vancouver's BC Place Stadium to cheering crowds of thousands on May 22, 1987, after raising $26 million for spinal cord research and quality of life initiatives. Like Terry Fox, he was hailed as an international hero.

Today, the wheelchair and many other items associated with the Man in Motion World Tour are preserved by the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. The song "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" was written in his honour by Canadian record producer and composer David Foster and British musician John Parr, and performed by Parr for the soundtrack of the film St. Elmo's Fire. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in September 1985.

Post-tour career

Hansen is currently president and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, which has generated more than $200 million for spinal cord injury-related programs.

The Rick Hansen Foundation was established in 1988, following the completion of Rick Hansen's Man in Motion World Tour, to continue raising funds and awareness to create a world without barriers for people with disabilities. For nearly 30 years, the Foundation has been actively improving the lives of people with disabilities, changing perceptions and breaking down barriers. The vision of the organization is to create an inclusive world where people with disabilities can reach their full potential. Through programs, collaboration and leadership, the Foundation has increased awareness and solutions for the barriers people with disabilities face, created more accessible spaces, improved the quality of life and health outcomes for people with spinal cord injuries, mobility issues and other disabilities.

In addition, the Foundation operates three major programs. The Rick Hansen School Program is designed for students from grades one to twelve, and teaches inclusiveness, disability awareness and leadership.[5] Meanwhile, an online accessibility-related travel tool and consumer ratings guide called planat was also launched in 2011.[6][7] The Foundation also provides Quality of Life grants to recipients every year.

During 2011 and 2012, the Foundation was also part of a cross-Canada tour called the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay that followed the same route as Hansen's original Man in Motion Tour, roughly 25 years after it began.[8][9]

Hansen was noted as "the driving force" in the development of the 48 million dollars raised for the International Collaboration of Repair Discoveries (ICORD), an information network designed to track and record "best practices" in spinal cord treatment across the country and internationally. ICORD also maintains the Rick Hansen Spinal Cord Injury Registry, allowing doctors and experts across the country to share vital information on what works and what doesn't for specific kinds of spinal cord injuries.[10]

ICORD is located inside the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, which is also home to the Brenda and David McLean Integrated Spine Clinic, which provides one-stop outpatient care for people with spinal cord injuries or diseases of the spine, as well as the Rick Hansen Institute (formerly the Spinal Cord Injuries Solutions Network).

The building was designed to be fully accessible, with no need to display the wheelchair disability sign, and integrates research with care.

The province has previously contributed $17.25 million to spinal cord injury research and quality of life – $2.25 million to the B.C. Leadership Chair in Spinal Cord Research at the Rick Hansen Institute at UBC and $15 million to the Rick Hansen Foundation in support of its ongoing work to help improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Hansen is a supporter of the conservation of sturgeon. Hansen contributed to the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society with the money earned from the book Tale of the Great White Fish. Additionally, he has served as chair for both Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society and the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund Society, helping to restore and protect sturgeon and salmon populations in British Columbia.

Hansen earned a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1986 from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.


On June 23, 2013, Vancouver Sun columnist David Baines published a lengthy and detailed investigative story about the finances of Hansen and his various foundations and groups. The article, entitled "Behind the Rick Hansen Foundation: Charity's Financial Stewardship Questioned" reveals, among other things, that "in 2009, Hansen donated rights to his name [to the Rick Hansen Foundation] for $1.8 million. In return, he received a $1.8-million tax receipt." It also states that Hansen's salary prior to resigning from his positions as president and CEO in 2011 was "more than $400,000 a year; how much more is not clear."[11]

After his 2011 resignation, he became co-chairman of the foundation (with Lyall Knott) and re-structured his relationship with the foundation by having it create the 'Rick Hansen Leadership Group,' a not-for-profit society that "is technically controlled by the foundation but headed by Hansen and includes two assistants". That restructuring "removed Hansen from the foundation's direct payroll. Instead of paying him directly, the foundation now pays him indirectly through the leadership group"; as a consequence, the foundation does not report any compensation level for him in its CRA returns.

Professional background

  • President and CEO, Rick Hansen Foundation (1997–present)
  • National Fellow, Rick Hansen National Fellow Programme, University of British Columbia (1990–present)
  • Consultant on Disability Issues to the President, University of British Columbia (1989–1991)
  • Commissioner General to Canada Pavilion at World Exposition '88 in Brisbane, Australia (1987–1988)

Awards and honours

Hansen was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada on June 29, 1987. His citation reads:[12]

Honorary appointments

  • Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Forces Joint Personnel Support Unit (2012–Present)
  • Honorary Director, Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (2002)
  • Honorary Board member, Think First Foundation (1998–2000)
  • Honorary Chair, Brain and Spinal Cord Research Centre Campaign, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia (1995)
  • Honorary Patron, B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (1995–Present)
  • Honorary Chair, Grey Cup Festival (1994)
  • Honorary Chair, Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability (1990–Present)
  • Honorary Chair, Alberta Premier's Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities (1989–Present)
  • Honorary Chair, BC Premier's Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities (1989–Present)

Hansen was named Commissioner General for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo '88 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. In 1986, a township in Sudbury District, Ontario, previously named the Geographical Township of Stalin, altered its name to the Township of Hansen in the athlete's honour. It is now within the boundary of the municipality of Killarney.


Hansen is the co-author of two books: the autobiographical Rick Hansen: Man in Motion, written with Jim Taylor (published in 1987, ISBN 0-88894-560-4), and the self-help book Going the Distance: 7 steps to personal change, written with Dr. Joan Laub.

Personal life

Hansen and his wife Amanda Reid first met during his Man in Motion World Tour as she was his physiotherapist. They married in 1987 and have three daughters.[13][14][15]

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