By Amy Fendley After a summer vacation of approximately six non-wheeling days, John Ryan returned home from his 134-day, 8,688 kilometre Regeneration Tour to a homecoming he will never forget. Jane MacCarthy, a media relations co-ordinator for the tour, estimated there were more than 5,000 people present to welcome Ryan back to Whistler last Saturday, in an emotional celebration that rivalled the homecomings of local heroes, Ross Rebagliati and Rob Boyd. "There were so many high points, every day, of the tour," says Ryan, over the phone while resting in bed. "From meeting a new person everyday, to going to schools and talking to kids which I really enjoyed doing, to being presented with the key to the City of Mississauga, to turning onto Cleveland Avenue in Squamish. That blew my mind, I’d expected maybe 50 people, but there were thousands. "It was an incredible homecoming," he said. "It far exceeded what I was dreaming of on the road. It hit me when I came through the crowd, went up the ramp and got turned around on stage. That really made it all worthwhile. Coming home really reinforced there’s no place like home, it was the highlight of my life." Ryan, however, is now currently on a new road, the road to recovery as he heals from fatigue, the flu and a pressure sore which he says will require surgery. Challenges along the way included snow storms in Newfoundland, a heat wave, bugs and lightning storms in Northern Ontario, and head winds gusting up to 50 km/h on the Prairies. The final 100 km, he faced the 675 metre elevation gain of the winding Sea to Sky Highway. "The pressure sore got bad in northern Ontario, and I thought we would have to stop," he said. "Now I’m paying for it and will probably have to have an operation. The day to day grind never seemed to end, and we were all homesick, definitely. It was probably the toughest part because we were still so far away from home, it was hot, humid, hilly, heavy traffic, bugs and desolate. The seclusion was tough on the mind and the body, and I never thought Manitoba would look so good. When we got to B.C., the excitement of being so close to home made it easy to swallow." Ryan embarked on his Regeneration Tour to raise funds and awareness for spinal cord regeneration research from Cape Spear, Newfoundland on May 1, 1999. The Whistler realtor, left paralyzed after a car accident in 1994, hand-cycled a specially-designed, three-wheeled cycle, averaging speeds of 16 km/h, with a daily target distance of 100 kilometres. Although the total dollar amount raised by Ryan is still unknown, MacCarthy says that the figure is well over Ryan’s goal of $1 million. Shopper’s Drug Mart donated $15,000 to the tour, a contribution which came about because of David Melhado who works out of Shopper’s head office in Toronto. Melhado, a long time friend of Ryan’s, was a passenger in the car the night of the accident which left Ryan paralyzed. Melhado’s speech Saturday left few without a watery eye, as he described walking away from the accident uninjured because he was wearing his seatbelt, and Ryan wasn’t. Every year 41,000 Canadians suffer serious spinal cord and brain injuries — 35 per cent of them from motor vehicle accidents. John Steeves, a professor and director of Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (CORD) at UBC, suggested a number of options Ryan could put the funds towards, including the training of researchers — graduate students and research fellows — or establishing an endowment to run international workshops. "The efforts of John and his team were a true and significant contribution to the field of spinal cord regeneration research," said Steeves. "What he did was inspiring, gratifying and humbling and hits us all in the solar plexus. From our end, we’re certainly trying to do as much as we can to advance our therapies." Support for Ryan’s tour has come in many forms — from corporations like Intrawest and Eddie Bauer, realtors and real estate boards, the Canadian Paraplegic Association, service clubs and town councils across the country and many, many individuals, including one Whistler youth who raised $400 selling lemonade. The Resort Municipality of Whistler banded together with many fund-raising efforts before Ryan's departure. At Ryan’s homecoming on Saturday Mayor Hugh O’Reilly presented him with the key to the Resort Municipality of Whistler. And Prime Minister Jean Chretien extended his congratulations to Ryan on the completion of the tour. "This noble effort is a profound demonstration of courage and the desire to help others," Chretien wrote. "Throughout your journey, you have brought attention to the issue of spinal cord regeneration research and have showed how a person with a determined spirit and resolute will can surmount the most difficult physical challenges to reach new heights." As for life post-tour, Ryan will resume his real estate career and will continue school speaking engagements. He says that right now he’s finding it difficult to know how much went on in Whistler while he was away. "There were so many things going on that we had no idea about... big and little," said Ryan. "From the golf tournaments to the lemonade stand, what I would really like is if people see me, to let me know how they helped out so I can thank them." Donations to the John Ryan Regeneration Tour can be made at the Royal Bank, at Eddie Bauer, by telephone at 1-800-570-3222, or on the Regeneration Tour Internet web site: www.regenerationtour.org.