On a normal summer morning, 13-year-old Jacob Manning drags himself out of bed. But he'll be up at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, wide-eyed and ready to follow the path of one of his biggest heroes.
Jacob will be the first runner on the opening day of a cross-Canada relay that starts Cape Spear, Nfld., to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Rick Hansen's triumphant Man in Motion tour. At 10:20 a.m., wearing his new black and green Reebok Zigs, Jacob will accept a specially created silver medal from Mr. Hansen and run for 250 meters before handing it to another runner.
For Jacob, the prospect of meeting Mr. Hansen and starting things off is so exciting that "it's like Christmas."
"Rick Hansen is an inspiration to me, in how even with the challenge you can do so much," he said from his home in Conception Bay, NL. "When I heard they had picked me, I was just like, 'No way!' It's a really good feeling."
Jacob, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was nine, said he hopes that by taking part he can educate people about the disease. Mr. Hansen says his goal is to unite thousands of Canadians like Jacob to help remind people that "there is still a long way to go" in the fight to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
"Instead of being one man in motion, the focus will be many who are in motion, who are coming together because they share the same values of a healthy and inclusive Canada," he said.
About 7,000 "difference makers" will participate in a relay that will trace the exact route the Canadian section of the Man in Motion tour followed in 1986 and 1987. The relay will end on May 23 in Vancouver. Mr. Hansen said his Man in Motion Foundation hopes to raise $250-million during anniversary celebrations that started last year for spinal cord research and to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.
Mr. Hansen raised more than $10-million for spinal cord research during his initial worldwide wheelchair odyssey. A paraplegic wheelchair athlete, he propelled himself more than 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries.
Mr. Hansen said on Tuesday that people with disabilities have "a lot more hope and a lot more opportunity" now than 25 years ago. But he said they still face countless challenges.
"People tend to think we have already dealt with it and they are always surprised to hear that there are still major barriers," he said. One example, he said, was the fact that many facilities built for the Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics had to be modified to accommodate people in wheelchairs.
Relay participants were chosen for their work to "make the world a healthier and more inclusive place," said Mr. Hansen.
Jacob Manning makes speeches about living with Type 1 diabetes.
Ramesh Ferris, a polio survivor who campaigns to promote the polio vaccine in countries where the disease is endemic, will hand cycle along the relay route as it passes through Whitehorse in March.
"We have millions of Canadians who need to be inspired by great things," he said. "I hope I can help them to overcome their own obstacles and achieve their own successes."