Column: Heroism resonates with Hansen

We refer to athletes who score a winning goal as heroes but to make such a claim is nonsense.

hero – 1. a person distinguished by courage, noble deeds, outstanding accomplishments, etc. (i.e. Terry Fox became a national hero)

– source, Canadian Oxford dictionary


The term hero is often thrown around loosely.

We refer to athletes who score a winning goal or otherwise lead their team to a championship as heroes, even though in the grander sense of the word, to make such a claim is nonsense.

Wayne Gretzky, who many Canadians believe is the best hockey player ever to lace up a pair of skates, is iconic in this country – he was an obvious choice to light the Olympic torch to open the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver – but is he heroic?

One could argue that since his accomplishments, unparalleled in his sport, prompted fans and non-hockey watchers alike to shower him with kudos and respect, that yes, he qualifies as a hero. But if one were to compare his actions to, say, those of a longtime dedicated humanitarian, or a soldier who saved the lives of many trenchmates in wartime and helped lead his side to victory, it might be a different story.

Truth is, we have many types of hero in our society, and they serve a valuable purpose, each for different reasons. The dictionary definition allows for a fairly broad interpretation.

It seems for most people, the question of respect is a key determining factor when considering a person’s hero status, whether that occurs long after their deeds are done or while they are still actively involved in their chosen field.

Former wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion world fundraising tour for spinal cord research in the mid-1980s captured the attention of the world, especially here in his home country.

Hansen, like the aforementioned Terry Fox, was initially christened an international hero for his Herculean efforts wheeling himself around the globe in a wheelchair. Never mind the fact that he won three gold medals, two silver and a bronze between two Paralympic Games before tackling the fundraising mission for spinal cord research.

He remains a national hero in many people’s eyes – he received a huge ovation in B.C. Place as one of the final carriers of the Olympic Torch – because he continues to put others before himself, by spearheading further fundraising efforts and channelling people’s energy for the greater good, much like he did during the original Man in Motion world tour.

Hansen was in Greater Victoria this week, as part of his Rick Hansen Relay cross-Canada tour. While some of the folks who received his special Difference Maker awards in Victoria, Esquimalt and Oak Bay weren’t born at the time of the original Man in Motion, all were no doubt thrilled to be recognized by someone whose light shines in the same way Terry Fox’s did three decades ago.

Hansen, never known to turn down an interview or an opportunity to give an autograph to someone who he thinks it might make a difference for, is the ultimate diplomat for what it means to be Canadian, and what it means to overcome a potentially devastating disability.

He understands, at 54, that his role has changed from those days when his ripped upper body pounded through kilometre after kilometre.

As a man who exudes grace and class as he extends his hands to help, he is definitely a good example of a true Canadian hero.

Don Descoteau is the editor of the Victoria News.

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