Rick Hansen feels special gratitude towards Kamloops, and he wants to say thank you.
It was here, he said, that he learned he could have a fulfilling life after a car accident at age 15 left him without the use of his legs.
Originally from Williams Lake, Hansen was a young all-star athlete who used to travel to Kamloops for competitions.
And this city is where he chose to participate in his first marathon, the Kamloops Marathon, as a paraplegic.
Since then, Hansen has won 19 international wheelchair marathons, including three world championships.
But he’s most famous for his Man in Motion Tour, a cross Canada marathon he completed over nine months in 1986-1987 to raise awareness and funds for people with disabilities.
“Kamloops has a tremendous special place in my heart,” he said in front of upwards of 700 people who gathered at Tournament Capital Centre Thursday for the 25th anniversary of that tour.
“It helped me feel that sense that maybe I can come back into athletics and be a world champion. To recognize that nowhere in the definition of an athlete does it say, ‘You need to use your legs in order to be one.’
“Thank you to this great community for being part of my journey.”
Hansen arrived at the centre with Todd Harding by his side, a Kamloops resident and one of 7,000 “difference makers” passing the Rick Hansen Medal to one another over the 12,000 kilometres from Newfoundland to Vancouver that recreates the original Man in Motion.
“Words can’t adequately describe how I feel,” said Harding to the cheering crowds. “I’m truly, truly, truly honoured to be representing my community.”
Harding, who is sight impaired, was chosen because of his volunteer work in Kamloops. For 20 years, he has been part of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, as committee chair for the past 10 years.
The committee has helped prompt everything from audible crossing signals and wheelchair curbs at intersections to bylaws that prevent sidewalk cafes and sandwich boards from obstructing the path of the sight impaired.
The City was also honoured for those accomplishments with a medal of its own on Thursday, which Hansen passed to Mayor Peter Milobar during the celebration at Tournament Capital Centre.
The tour now continues on until May 22 through dozens of communities through B.C., when a celebration at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver includes a concert with Canadian performer icons such as David Foster, Sarah McLachlan, Jann Arden, The Canadian Tenors, Johnny Reid, Marianas Trench and others.