________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 5. . . .October 4, 2013


Rick Hansen: A Life in Motion. (Larger Than Life).

Don Quinlan.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013.
72 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55455-196-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55455-195-8 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Hansen, Rick, 1957- -Juvenile literature.
Paraplegics-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Athletes with disabilities-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Wheelchair sports-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

***½ /4


Rick was amazed at the speed and skill of a Newfoundlander named Mel Fitzgerald. Mel’s body was an efficient racing machine. But he also redesigned wheelchairs. The first wheelchair races had been run with ordinary wheelchairs you might find in any hospital or rehabilitation facility. These wheelchairs were big and slow with an emphasis on safety, stability, and protection. But Mel had created “souped-up” chairs that were light and extremely fast. These speedsters were perfectly designed for sprinters and marathon athletes alike. “I truly believe Mel is the father of modern-day wheelchair racing,” says Rick. “He was the first man to bring together the small push rims, the bigger wheels, the lightweight alloy chair frame, and the technique required to use them. After meeting Mel, I started to think about my wheelchair differently and got straight to work on building a new chair, using some of Mel’s ideas and some of my own. As a result, I started winning marathons all over the world.”


Rick Hansen was 15 when a motor vehicle accident resulted in two breaks in his lower spine and spinal cord damage that left him a paraplegic. His family, friends and high school gym coach supported him as he adjusted to a new life and came to realize that “a person is not defined by their disability—that [his] biggest hurdle was his own attitude.”

     Rick Hansen is perhaps best remembered for his Man In Motion World Tour that saw him, accompanied by his support team, traverse the world in a wheelchair, through 34 countries over a 26 month period, all with the goals to challenge assumptions about people with disabilities, to raise awareness of issues surrounding disabilities, while also raising funds for spinal cord research. Before he embarked on this incredible tour in 1985, Hansen achieved many other accomplishments. At the University of British Columbia where he began studies in physical education in 1976, he challenged attitudes about what a person with disabilities can achieve, and he also raised awareness about physical barriers on campus for those using wheelchairs. He became a skilled wheelchair basketball, volleyball and then track and field and marathon athlete. He won numerous awards for his athletic skills, including sharing the Lou Marsh Award with Wayne Gretzky. In 1984, he participated in the first Olympic Games Exhibition race for athletes with disabilities. That year he won one silver and two gold medals as a Paralympian.

     Quinlan’s writing style is appropriate for the audience. As indicated by the excerpt, he often makes use of Hansen’s own words, but it is unclear whether these are pulled from his two autobiographical works or from interviews or other sources. Most of the chapters do include one or two quotations that are attributed using endnotes, mostly referring to the autobiographical works identified in the book’s bibliography. Quinlan identifies five specific clips from the CBC archives, but the urls already prove to be impermanent. Fortunately, they will get a user to the right section of the CBC website where a Rick Hansen search will pull up related material including archival video clips. Additionally, the link to the Rick Hansen Foundation is reliable and can be another great supplement to the book. Many of the images used in the volume are from the Foundation while other sources are credited in the end material. A brief index is another feature that students can find useful.

      The brief account of Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour includes highlights and some lowlights with an emphasis on the positive. Sidebars are used sparingly but effectively. One, for example, notes that, in China, the warm reception that Hansen received was due in part to support from Deng Pufang who, himself, is a paraplegic and advocate for people with disabilities and importantly is a son of then premier Deng Xiaoping. Hansen’s later personal achievements are also recorded, including his work as a representative of Canada at Expo 88, membership in several halls of fame, and his induction as a Companion of the Order of Canada. Unlike many star athletes, Hansen did not choose to pursue celebrity endorsements for personal gain. Rather, he focused much of his energy on raising money to support research into spinal cord injuries. Some of the organizations that received funds from the Rick Hansen Foundation are profiled. Older readers may recall seeing Rick at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, or they may have heard about the 25th Anniversary Rick Hansen Relay that commemorated the Man in Motion World Tour using thousands of volunteers to move a relay medal from Cape Spear, NL, across Canada to Vancouver, BC, over a nine-month period ending on May 22, 2012.

     Canadians, young and old alike, need look no further than the remarkable, accomplished Rick Hansen to note with pride the heroic nature of this Canadian life. This is an inspiring biography that can cause teachers to explore with students the question of how we can take up Rick’s challenge to “go out and make a difference.”

Highly Recommended.

Val Ken Lem is the liaison librarian for History, English and Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.