For 17 years, it is an event that awes and humbles me when we honour the men and women who turned their major problems of physical disabilities into minor hurdles that they vaulted with a smile.
They're the ones who led the way in kicking the old term of handicap in the teeth. As David Crombie, the former Toronto mayor, said as he chaired the presentation luncheon: "They work, go to school, raise families and get involved - and they do it with all the passion, talent and ability of their able-bodied peers. This is the real message of the Hall and it's a message that we hope one day all Canadians will take to heart."
Crombie has been the Hall chair, along with the founder, Vim Kochhar, a new senator, of the selection committee and the event itself. I have been a committee member since it began and was known as the Terry Fox Hall of Fame before Terry's family, to their discredit, decided that somehow this Hall subtracted from Terry's honourable memory and bled off a few donations.
I think another message from the Hall is for Canadians to get off their fat rumps and do more without grumbling about aches.
It certainly is a prod in my life. This year the Hall inducted David Shannon, a Thunder Bay lawyer who has reached the North Pole and jumped in a parachute from nearly 30,000 feet DESPITE THE FACT HE IS A QUADRIPLEGIC.
Not only is Shannon a confident champion for his causes, he also has a sense of humour. When he and his friend who pulled the sledge, Christopher Walkins, reached the Pole, they planted an accessible parking sign.
(There must be something special in the water in Thunder Bay. A firefighter from that city who had received a heart transplant has skied to the North Pole and climbed a mountain in Antarctica. He was accompanied by my cardiologist, Heather Ross, in charge of heart transplants at the University Health Network. Dr. Ross is not exactly an easy person if people complain about exercise.)
The magazine for the luncheon has always been titled WhyNot. And why not indeed! This year, one cover picture belonged to its publisher, Jeff Tiessen, whose gold medal time in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul still stands as the record. Tiessen is a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, has been an original member of the Hall's selection committee and is a successful publisher.
Oh yes, no arms!
Our cheerful Lt. Governor, David Onley, also presided over the induction of Colette Bourgonje, a nine-time Paralympian whose treasure house of medals resulted in her receiving a major world achievement award at the games in Vancouver. A phys ed teacher in a wheelchair who put away the memory of the near-death car crash.
The final recipient is Alan Dean, who after his loss of a leg became a pioneering sports administrators and Secretary General of the International Sports Organization for the Disabled.
Onley, of course, is in a wheelchair. His deteriorating condition from polio didn't stop him as a TV personality and best-selling author on space. What a wonderful example he is for all the kids who can't run like their friends....or even walk.
A nice finish came this year during a speech by Gordon Nixon, the Royal Bank president. On each table sat a glass piggybank, and Scotia Bank pledged to match all the donations from the diners. Nixon said RBC would match all the money in the piggybanks too, and he was sure his banking rival wouldn't mind having to double their contribution.
A fine bit of fiscal gamesmanship that fit right in with the warm feeling in the banquet hall from the many people there who know all about having to deal with people who think it's not a disability but a handicap.