This Day in History: Paraplegic Richard Hansen Sets Out to Circumnavigate the World in a Wheelchair

This Day In History: March 20, 1985

On this day in history, 1985, paraplegic Rick Hansen sets out to circumnavigate the land masses of the world in a wheelchair.   Hansen was inspired by Terry Fox, the Canadian athlete who lost his leg due to bone cancer and subsequently set out on the “Marathon of Hope” in 1980, running across Canada to raise money for cancer research.  Fox ultimately was unable to complete his run due to his cancer returning, which he soon died from.

Hansen decided he’d like to do a similar promotion, but decided to not just try to make it across Canada, but to travel around the world, raising awareness and money for spinal cord injury research.  He named this journey the “Man in Motion World Tour”.

On May 22, 1987, roughly two years after he started, his trip was complete.  During his expedition, he battled bouts of carbon monoxide poisoning, bladder infections, pressure sores, injuries to his wrists and hands, and a variety of other ailments.  Despite this, he covered a distance of 24,901.55 miles, traversing 34 countries and four continents, averaging just under 53 miles per day traveling (465 travel days out of a possible 792).  He also averaged 30,000 strokes per travel day before finally completing his journey.

As the point was to raise awareness and money for spinal injury related programs, he not only spent his days wheeling incredible distances, but also attended numerous community events and spoke at schools and hospitals across the world in his off time.  Thanks to these efforts, he managed to raise $26 million for spinal cord research and quality of life initiatives.

Bonus Facts:

  • Hansen became paralyzed after being thrown from the back of a pickup truck on June 27, 1973 when the truck hit a tree.  He was just 15 years old at the time and was returning from a fishing trip when this happened.
  • Hansen used 160 wheel chair tires during his Man in Motion World Tour.  The wheelchair he used to travel the world is currently on display at the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
  • The hit song “St. Elmo’s Fire” was written in homage to Rick Hansen.
  • After being paralyzed, Hansen became involved in various athletic games for the disabled.  His first major event victory was at the Pacific Northwest Games for the Disabled, where he took home a gold medal in table tennis.  From 1979-1984, he won 19 international wheelchair marathons and 4 world titles.  Further, he won 9 gold medals at the 1982 Pan American Wheelchair Games. He was also named Canada’s Disabled Athlete of the Year three times, in 1979, 1980, and 1982.
  • Along with a variety of honorary degrees, Hansen earned a Bachelor’s of Physical Education from the University of British Columbia in 1976.  He was the first physically disabled person to ever graduate from that University with a degree in Physical Education.
  • The highest point Richard Hansen achieved during the Man in Motion World Tour was when he wheeled over the Swiss Alps, reaching an altitude of 5,577 ft.
  • Today Rick Hansen is the CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, which to date has raised over $200 million for various spinal cord injury programs.
  • Terry Fox made it 3,339 miles across Canada in just 143 days when he had to quit his run due to his cancer returning.  Since 1981, an annual Terry Fox Run has been held in over 60 countries, raising about half a billion dollars towards cancer research to date.
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