Taking a test spin in a wheel chair isn’t as easy as it looks. Many people taking the wheel chair challenge, set up by the 1st Yennadon Scouts and Venturers, Wednesday couldn’t make it through the gentle slalom course that ran downhill around the bandstand in Memorial Peace Park.
And the return stretch meant wheeling up a slight grade, using only muscle power.
“It gives them a little bit of a taste of what it is like to go uphill,” said scout leader Lorelei Ducharme.
“If you watch, most of them use their feet.”
The wheel chair challenge was a warmup event to the 25th anniversary of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour.
Hansen wasn’t at the event, but the relay team that crossed Canada in the 25th Anniversary Relay did roll in, led by Maple Ridge wheelchair athlete Nathan Bragg.
“It’s just an honour to be part of something like the Rick Hansen relay,” Bragg told the crowd.
Hansen’s wheelchair trip around the world and his constant efforts since at including those with disabilities, have made a difference, says James Telep, part of the relay team.
The Maple Ridge resident has been in a wheelchair for 14 years, following a snowboarding accident on Hemlock Mountain.
“I saw him 25 years ago, before I broke my back,” he said following the ceremonies. The accident “slowed me down, but didn’t stop me,” he adds.
So has life improved for those with disabilities since?
“Of course. People are doing a lot,” Telep says.
He and Kevin Priebe, also in a chair, run Adaptive Seating Products, which makes specialty seats for wheel chair athletes in many sports.
Telep trains with the Pitt Meadows Paddling Club, is a national para-athlete and fastest in his class of kayaking.
Except for the odd building today, most are wheelchair accessible, he says. Telep points out Maple Ridge’s leisure centre, where he trains a few times a week, is fully accessible.
One challenge, though, is keeping his vehicle filled up with gasoline. There’s only one full-service gas station in town.
The relay’s arrival Tuesday was exactly 25 years to the day, when Hansen first rolled through Maple Ridge.
“It seems just like yesterday that I stood on the highway and watched Rick roll by,” said Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin.
Now his grandchildren are learning about Hansen, he added.
“What he did was open our eyes,” said Maple Ridge school board chair Mike Murray.
“The diversity in our public school system is our greatest strength I believe.”
Hansen appeared at the relay at noon Thursday in Pitt Meadows’ Spirit Square.
“We’re all in motion and we’re all in a journey,” he told the enthusiastic crowd.
Hansen said that following his car crash, when he was 15, that left him unable to walk, it was his family and teachers that rallied around him.
“How far we’ve come since I was here in Pitt Meadows 25 years ago,” Hansen said.
“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys on the planet,” adding his best work is still to come.
“Let’s keep going.”
Hansen said later he wants to use social media to develop a Global Accessibility Map, that will serve as a ratings tool that will help gauge mobility and accessibility in cities around the world.
But it’s obvious by the wheel chair ramps, curb cut outs and buildings that accessibility is improving.
“It doesn’t mean we’re totally there, but it means we’ve made great progress.”
Hansen said he wants legislation to change building codes across Canada, “to ensure that every new building that is built is truly inclusive, so we don’t have to waste time and money retrofitting – because we weren’t thinking in that modern view.
“It’s going to unleash so much potential,” and will save millions in the future.
Employment also has to improve for those with disabilities, he added.
Pitt Meadows resident Fran Deptford was one of the hundreds watching the ceremonies. She now uses a cane to get around after being hit by a car in 2000 at Harris and McMyn roads.
She showed up because the relay “has meaning for me.”
She also was there for her step dad and step brother, Herb Carey and Brian Carey. Herb met Hansen 25 years ago. She brought along a picture of her step dad from that event.
Brian, who recently died, spent most of his life as a quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident in 1973 on his 17th birthday in Savona, north of Kamloops.
A car turned in front of him and his motorcycle. He flipped over the car, skidded along the ground, and broke his neck on the hubcap of a parked car.
“It just devastated my step dad.”
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