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Still a Man in Motion

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Rick Hansen chalks up another first — skiing

"I wouldn’t trade my life to date for the use of my legs, absolutely not. But at the same time, if I could have the privilege of, whether through skiing or through new technologies, have things open up or even one day walk again, life would be even better."

— Rick Hansen

By Robyn Cubie

Having anyone tell you that their life is better and richer for having lost the ability to walk is a mind-blowing concept for most able-bodied people. Especially perhaps in a community such as Whistler, whose very foundations lie in the sheer joy of pure physical interaction with the outdoors.

Yet paraplegic Rick Hansen and the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program set out last weekend to put across the clear message that the main barriers to achieving dreams lie in attitudes, rather than disabilities. And to drive the message home, last Saturday Hansen undertook a lifelong dream for the first time on Whistler mountain – he went skiing. As for the verdict?

"It far exceeded my wildest expectations," he says "I’m going to be going up here in Whistler as much as I can – the ski season is almost over, but come October-November, I’m going to be here in a big way."

Hansen and his family were invited to learn to ski by the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program, an organization largely run by volunteers that enables people with disabilities to ride and ski on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. He says he was amazed by the quality of the instructors and the equipment.

"I’d had visions of being fairly limited in a sit-ski in terms of manoeuvrability and balance," he says. "I thought it would take a very long time to gain any meaningful experience but it was absolutely fantastic."

The sit-ski equipment used by Hansen has a bucket-type seat that is attached to a single ski. Steering and balance are aided by two hand-operated outriggers. Hansen says by the end of the day he was skiing freely, although still tethered to his instructor to avoid picking up too much speed. He believes the sit ski seems more natural and intuitive than regular standup skiing.

"Maybe because I come from the world of wheelchair racing where I’m used to making my chair move," he explains. "I watched (sit ski instructors) Steve Napier and Helen Cooke moving effortlessly up and down on the slopes, going fast under control, thinking wow, that’s inspiring. I can see what the sport has to offer and how liberating it is to get out in the mountains, enjoy the environment, be with friends and have a great experience."

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