Rick Hansen made a lasting impact on a teenage Melinda Foot.
“I was there when he left and there when he came back,” says the Procter resident who was living in Vancouver in the mid-1980s.
Foot was part of the Quest program at her high school where students were encouraged to combine classroom with the real world. As part of her curriculum Foot chose to volunteer for the Man in Motion World Tour where she did odd jobs in the office.
“It was inspiring,” she says of her reason to get involved back then. “When you are a teenager it’s easy to get lost in your own little world that at the time seems so big… all the teenage drama. But being part of the Quest program at that time, it encourages you to look outside of your world and look at what is going on in the world.
“What Rick was doing was huge and it was raising a lot of awareness.”
Foot was at the Oakridge Mall on March 21, 1985 when Hansen kicked off the tour. Twenty-six months later, the Canadian athlete had wheeled more than 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries. By the time he crossed Canada he had raised $26 million for spinal cord research and touched thousands of lives. His welcome to BC Place in May of 1987 was a lot different than when he left.
“One of the interesting things was when he left there were very few people there,” says Foot. “It was a very small event and he was a little-known person. When he came back it seemed like hundreds of thousands of people were there to greet him. You could see the impact in what he made during those months.
“When he left barely anybody knew who he was, when he came back everybody knew him.”
Foot grew up in Nelson, but moved to the Lower Mainland during her teen years.
She returned to the Nelson area several years ago to raise her two children.
Foot owns the Procter General Store, a gathering place for the small Kootenay Lake community. It is because of her involvement in the community — sitting on many boards and always lending a hand when needed — that a friend nominated her to be part of the upcoming Many in Motion tour. Her connection to the past and her contribution to her community easily caught the eye of the tour organizers. She will be part of the medal relay when it comes through the Nelson area on April 19.
Now 42, Foot says the medal relay will no doubt transport her back in time.
“When I participate I will be thinking back 25 years, so in a way it is an anniversary for my own life,” she says. “Twenty-five years ago what was I thinking, what was I doing?”
With her children now 18 and 20, Foot says it is also a time to compare the issues today’s teenagers face compared to those of her day.
“These kids are so much more concentrated on the environment and the state of the world in that regard,” she says. “When we were teenagers that wasn’t nearly as big a conversation. The biggest fear we had was nuclear war in elementary school and then by our late teens there was none of these major catastrophic things knocking at our doors… so we had this period where we could be blissfully naïve.”
It was during that naïve period when a Canadian hero touched the lives of so many, including a teenager looking to make a difference.