Remembering Rick Hansen's visit
A local committee is hoping to convince Rick Hansen to be here when the cross-Canada relay marking the 25th anniversary of his Man in Motion tour arrives in Nelson next April.
“We are inviting him to come,” says Kim Palfenier of the Nelson Regional Sports Council.
“We hear he has a soft spot for Nelson and has been here a few times,”
In fact, Hansen was here on a high school volleyball trip a few months before the 1973 accident that left him a paraplegic — something no one knew until last year when former Trafalgar coach Bill McDonnell produced a scoresheet with Hansen’s name on it.
The campaign to get him to return to Nelson will include appeals from locals who vividly remember him passing through on April 28, 1987 as he raised money for spinal cord research.
“We’ve got photos and clippings from when he was here and letters from people he had an impact on, saying ‘Please come Rick,” Palfenier explains.
Among them are two teachers who sacrificed their hair for the cause.
Tom Hierck and Val Gibson of the L.V. Rogers staff pledged that if students and staff could raise $2,500 for Hansen’s Man in Motion tour, Hierck would submit to a Mohawk haircut and Gibson would rainbow dye her long locks.
Hierck, then in his first year at the school, says when students heard the challenge, it “drew their attention like sharks being drawn to a little blood.
“In what seemed like record time, the totals were eclipsed and the new hairstyles were arranged,” he says. “Photos of the day show my daughter with a shocked look as her dad was shorn of his curly locks with a strip left up the middle.”
Gibson actually remembers her end of the bargain required $3,000, and to her disappointment, that target had not been reached by the final day.
“I had been safe, but unhappy,” she says. But during the assembly, some students and teachers began collecting donations from the stands.
“Suddenly, a wave of hysteria hit the crowd. Money was coming from everywhere — and not just coins! Students were literally throwing money towards the ushers with their baskets. Within a few minutes, the $3,000 goal had been reached and passed.”
Gibson then made good on her promise.
The two teachers later met Hansen after he wheeled into Nelson, greeted by “cheers and cheques,” as Daily News reporter Kathleen Rodgers put it.
Hierck considers his signed photo of Hansen “one of my greatest treasures,” and calls the visit “a special moment in the life of a small community not on the main road to anywhere.”
Hansen also signed a poster for Gibson, who felt “very lucky to be able to meet such an amazing and inspirational human who had given so much for so many.”
Hansen stayed that night in the Hume Hotel — then known as the Heritage Inn — and met a young Ryan Martin, now the hotel’s general manager.
They had their picture taken together just before Hansen set out on the road the next day. Hansen wore a blue gortex suit and City of Nelson cap. Martin also recalls Hansen’s gloved, taped-up hands.
“He was one of the most inspirational men during my childhood,” Martin says.
He further remembers a novel fundraiser at Trafalgar: the late Ted Hargreaves outlined a portrait of Hansen in front of a Canadian flag, and for a donation, let students paint a small square.
“It was a great fundraising initiative that really got the students feeling like they contributed to something worthwhile,” Martin says.
The completed painting adorned a stairway wall with a large sign above it that said “What is your goal?”
“I will never forget that, the image of the inspirational Rick Hansen that would greet you every day, and knowing that I painted a red square of that maple leaf made me feel like I assisted in accomplishing a great thing,” Martin says.
That painting, on a big piece of plywood, has since been located in the bowels of Trafalgar and will be placed in community complex entrance when the Many in Motion tour comes to Nelson (see related story on Page 14).