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Hansen relay returns to Belleville in October

By Renee Rodgers

A Canadian icon will be rolling into Belleville next month.

Rick Hansen will be stopping by the city during the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay. Garnet Thompson, chair of Belleville’s accessibility advisory committee, made the announcement at a city hall press conference September 21. He was joined by Karen Kitchen, co-chair of the committee, and Mayor Neil Ellis.

“Thanks to the enthusiasm and excitement exhibited by our community, Mayor Ellis, city council and the accessibility advisory committee, the city has been chosen to have Rick Hansen personally attend the celebration,” Thompson said in a speech.

Kitchen, who was born with Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, has been on the accessibility committee since 2000.

“What Rick Hansen set out to do 25 years ago, was fight for total inclusion, so services were accessible to everyone,” Kitchen said in an interview. “He wanted to remove physical and social barriers for people with disabilities.”

Kitchen, who was born and raised in Belleville, said she has witnessed the removal of some of these barriers in the city since she joined the committee eleven years ago. The committee has been active in implementing services such as a fully accessible fleet of Belleville transit busses, as well as specialized mobility transit. A system that allows the city to receive feedback from the public about accessibility to city facilities, programs and services has also been implemented.

The changes made by the city of Belleville to improve accessibility show Hansen’s message has been received in this community, Kitchen said.

Kitchen, who met Hansen in Toronto this summer, said she is thrilled to have her idol visiting the city.

“Having him here is like winning the lottery,” she said.

Hansen will arrive in Belleville Oct. 31 and will make a short speech at city hall around 3 p.m. Later he will appear at the relay’s end of day ceremonies at the Multiplex Recreation Community Centre around 5 p.m. While there, he will make a longer speech and take time for photo opportunities. More details will be made available in another media conference to be scheduled before the event, Thompson said.

Hansen, from British Columbia, sustained a spinal cord injury and became paralysed from the waist down after being thrown from the back of a pickup truck at 15 years old. Not letting his disability get in the way of his passion for sports, Hansen went on to win several international wheelchair marathons, as well as medals at the Pan American Wheelchair Games and Paralympic Games.

Hansen began his original Man in Motion Tour in 1985. During the tour, which lasted more than two years, Hansen wheeled more than 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries, raising $26-million for spinal cord injury research and accessibility initiatives, said the relay’s official website.

The 25th anniversary relay, which began August 24, 2011 in Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador and concludes in Vancouver on May 22, 2012, will re-trace the Canadian segment of the original tour. Belleville will be one of more than 600 communities the tour will travel through as it makes its nine-month, 12,000-kilometre journey across the country.

Belleville Transit will organize an accessible bus to the ceremony at the multiplex Oct. 31 for anyone needing transportation.