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Man in Motion II

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, wheelchair-bound Paralympian athlete Rich Hansen "conquered" the Great Wall and its many steps, and has returned to do it again.

The Canadian, an activist for people with spinal cord injuries, was in Shanghai last week on the China leg of his Man in Motion World Tour (April 12-21).

Hansen, 54, was injured in an auto accident when he was age 15.

He has come to symbolize resilience and perseverance, since his first world tour in 1985 when he set out on a 40,000 kilometers odyssey, visiting 34 countries on four continents.

He aimed to prove "anything is possible" for a person with disabilities.

That tour raised CAD$25 million (US$26.2 million) for people with spinal cord injuries.

On the 25th anniversary of that tour, Hansen is revisiting countries that had major impact on the success of his original journey and have contributed to a healthier and more inclusive world.

Q: You have visited the Great Wall twice over 25 years. What are your feelings?

A: When I first arrived 25 years ago, I had no references for the Great Wall, and I didn't realize that there were so many steps. I was encouraged that my team helped me to conquer so many stairs.

The Great Wall experience proved that when we work together with the team we can achieve everything. It's a magnificent moment at the highest point of the wall, celebrating the moment of the incredible success.

Twenty-five years later I'm back. I find that individuals with wheelchairs can get to the wall, which shows the great changes in China, and the whole world.

One emotion can help many emotions, and one person can inspire many people. This time we invited a number of youths around the world, including 500 Chinese to join the journey to the Great Wall.

The goal is to identify young people who have made a difference in other people's lives and inspire them to carry on their dream of creating a more accessible world.

Q: Your foundation helped in the reconstruction of Wenchuan after the earthquake in 2008. How do you cooperate with the Canadian government on this area?

A: The Canadian Institute of Forestry donated CAD$8 million (US$8.3 million) to build special schools and help people with disabilities.

I am also looking forward to establishing research institutes of studying spinal cord in 100 sites. We will sign a partnership agreement with the China Disabled Persons Foundation and arrange to work with the China Rehabilitation Research Center, the No. 3 Hospital of Peking University and other institutes.

For this project, I will meet individuals and organizations in China and discuss joint ventures that can improve the lives of people in China.

Q: Many people are inspired by your story, but some think you are a showman. What makes you press ahead?

A: Actually, behind my action is a big suffering since I sat in a wheelchair. It's an incredible challenge. I meet athletes with disabilities around the world and we have similar feelings of isolation from society and experiencing disrespect.

Everyone has his own talents to contribute to changing the world. I have the deep desire to help others and my talent at the time was winning the world wheelchair marathon championship.

However, my experience was not only in Canada, I traveled around the world. The Man in Motion Tour was the result of all elements coming together to try to make some differences. But the Man in Motion World Tour is just a beginning. Over 25 years, I developed other talents to make contributions and help others.

Q: Do you believe people with spinal cord injuries will one day be able to stand?

A: Yes, I do believe this dream will come true. Maybe this is one of the most difficult challenges human beings face. But I still believe when many people make up their mind, anything is possible. Maybe it will take another 25 years. We have seen many achievements. Some people with spinal cord injuries can walk away from the wheelchair after medical treatment. There is also big revolution in laboratories. We have also been learning how to protect the spinal cord after the injury.

Q: How have you educated your three daughters to care about and respect others?

A: Both my wife and I teach them. My three daughters are now aged 21, 19 and 15. This time my eldest daughter Emma comes with me. We tell them everyone has unique talents to contribute to the world. They should have active attitudes toward any difficult challenge. I am glad they treat others with full respect.


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