Liam McDonough was just one of about 1,000 Oak Bay High and Monterey middle school students who gathered Wednesday to hear Rick Hansen’s inspirational story of making a difference by finding strength through adversity.
But then the Grade 12 student was stunned when he was called from the crowd to receive a Difference Maker medal from Hansen, a moment that earned the 18-year-old a standing ovation.
“I was dumbfounded,” McDonough said of the surprise.
The teen is a model in giving back: he is on student council, is an honours student, has built houses in developing countries, helped spearhead school fundraising efforts last year for Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock and coaches, among other achievements.
This summer, after graduation, he plans to build houses in the Dominican Republic. He will begin his commerce studies at the University of Victoria this fall, with a goal of working for a non-governmental organization.
Though his schedule is currently “jam-packed,” McDonough said he enjoys giving back. “It’s definitely beneficial for the people that I help.”
Hansen’s morning stop in Oak Bay and his visits to Victoria and CFB Esquimalt on Tuesday coincide with the 25th anniversary of his Man In Motion World Tour.
A medal relay, which began in Newfoundland and Labrador last August, is passing through 600 communities across Canada. The tour ends in Vancouver on May 22.
Hansen didn’t come to Greater Victoria on his original tour, but he has been visiting provincial capitals and military bases to present Difference Maker medals to individuals who have helped make the world more accessible and inclusive.
Many recipients have also contributed to Hansen’s goal of one day finding a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury. The Richmond resident lost the use of his legs at age 15 in a motor vehicle accident.
As he spoke at Oak Bay High, a slideshow of photographs allowed students to share in some of Hansen’s struggles and triumphs. A story about doubts that Hansen had at the start of his 34-country world tour became a lesson in perseverance.
“There’s no shame in walking away from something, but don’t do it if you’re going to have regrets,” he said, adding that he told himself to get back in his wheelchair and see if he had one more stroke left in him.
“And I did. Was I ever glad that I asked myself if I still had one more stroke – no regrets.
“Each of us have those moments.”
Just as Hansen said he finds his motivation in his family, friends and a vast support network, McDonough said he too is inspired by others who quietly make a difference in the lives of others.
“I know they don’t always get the recognition they deserve,” he said. “Ultimately, they are the ones who make things happen.”
Since the relay began in Newfoundland and Labrador last August, the event has confirmed for Hansen that, “This time I know the end is just the beginning.
“Life is a journey for all of us. I know that I’ll continue to work towards building a healthier and more inclusive world.”
He said he also plans to encourage youth to care about issues that matter to them.
“If there’s one thing I can leave you with here today, it’s that if each of us does our own small part, together we have the power to change everything.”
For details on the 25th anniversary of Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour and the Rick Hansen Foundation, visit rickhansenrelay.com.