British Columbia

Rick Hansen: 5 books that changed my life

Canadian paralympian and philanthropist Rick Hansen on the 5 books that have been important to him in his life.

From fishing to information technology and medicine, the books that have most affected him

Canadian paralympian and philanthropist Rick Hansen is most famous for wheeling, not reading, but the latter has always been a strong interest of his.

He sat down with North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay to share the five books that have most affected him in his life. 

Raised in Williams Lake, B.C., Hansen was just 15 when a pickup truck accident damaged his spinal cord and paralyzed him from the waist down. 

He went on to win several medals at the 1980 and 1984 Paralympics, and in 1985 he launched his famous Man in Motion Tour to raise funds for spinal cord research.

By the time he finished his tour in 1987, he'd raised $26 million. 

Since then, through the Rick Hansen Foundation, he has made it his life's work to improve the lives of people with disabilities by removing societal barriers.

Rick Hansen is met by enthusiastic crowds on his 25th anniversary relay of the Man in Motion tour in 2011 ((Courtesy Rick Hansen Foundation) )

1. Favourite childhood book

Hansen can't remember its name, but he recalls a book with two stories of young boys fishing.

"Given that my earliest memories were of growing up fishing with my father and grandfather, these struck to the heart. My imagination just went wild. Fishing became a part of my adventures." 

"It also led to my accident — coming back from a fishing trip — which ultimately redefined my whole life and created the most amazing gift I could ever imagine."

2. The book he would give his young adult self

The Digital Economy, by Don Tapscott

"Here's a guy who well over 20 some odd years ago wrote a book about how the world was going to be transformed by the internet and by the emerging information technology.

"If I only had an inkling of how right on he was, I can only imagine the kinds of things that I would've done differently.

"I see that as something that really would've been incredibly instructive to become more connected, to build on a social movement, to be able to continue to galvanize the 1.3 billion people on the planet that live with disabilities so that they're not divided by body part, or disease, or clinical diagnosis, but they're engaged by a common mission to reduce stigma, to create awareness, to change attitudes, and to also make the world more accessible so people can have the mobility and inclusiveness that they deserve."

3.The book that changed his life

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

Hansen came across this book while employed at the University of British Columbia in leadership work. In particular, two of the seven habits stick out. 

Habit 4: Think win-win.  Don't always go into relationships thinking, "What's in it for me?" Thinking about mutually beneficial relationships and engagement to really create the best authentic outcomes.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. "That really helped me with my marriage," laughed Hansen.

"It's amazing how that really opens up your relationships and your communication." 

4. The book he loves to lend

The Molecules of Emotion, by Candace Pert, PhD

This book presents some of the first scientific research to explore how emotions affect our health.

"She proved that, indeed, you could actually have a profound impact on your health by how you feel."

He's been sharing it with his friends, many of whom are intrigued and inspired by the theory, he said. 

"They're practicing a more balanced approach in their life," looking at things such as general health and fitness, nutrition, thinking about reducing stressed, and modifying or changing attitudes and behaviours, Hansen said.

5. The book that's his guilty pleasure

World's best Fishing Stories, produced by Field & Stream

The book is a recent father's day gift from the youngest of his three daughters and touches on something that has become much more than just a hobby for Hansen.

Hansen sees his love of fishing as an opportunity to build relationships and introduce others to the importance of making the outdoors more accessible to people living with disabilities. 

"In the old model, only the most able-bodied go off and be involved in adventure, and tourism, and hiking, and skiing, and camping, and fishing. That's being shattered."

He recently took a group of ten people in wheelchairs and five quadraplegics out on the water, fishing. "They had an incredible experience. Their eyes were opened, and their hearts were opened."

"It will help establish the notion that disability is not just a charitable issue or concern, or a human rights issue, but it's an economic opportunity that will drive more change as people respond and think about it in their human resource strategies." 

Shelf Life is a series on North by Northwest where British Columbians from all sectors are invited to share five books that have had a significant impact on their lives. 

To hear the full interview with Rick Hansen, listen to the audio labelled: Rick Hansen: Shelf Life.


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