WHEN STUBBORN COURAGE CLOBBERS ADVERSITY
Just getting to the annual luncheon of the Hall of Fame can be challenging. But I keep my mouth shut when I get there among the wheelchairs, walkers, white canes and cheerful disabled Canadians who face accessibility challenges every second.
It is my annual kick-in-the-ass, something to think about when I feel sorry for myself. I am fortunate when you consider what life has dumped into the lives of many of our neighbours and friends and that chap just trying to limp across the slippery street and survive.
There were friends at the Hall's 19th annual induction ceremonies who asked how I felt. After all, I spent three months in four hospitals last year and came out unable to stand or walk. Just sitting was a chore because of the enormous bedsores that St. Joseph's Health Care Centre let fester over my tail bone.
Since one questioner was Anne Johnston, the feisty former councillor who had driven to our jammed downtown from near Peterborough despite her walker (and the pacemaker that has now improved her life,) I kept my reply to a few words, which would astound my family.
Johnston has a lifetime of work for the physical disabled. She is an original member of the Hall's selection committee, as I am, but she and others, like the chair, David Crombie, the Hall's creator, retired senator Vim Kochhar, and the happy warrior, Linc Alexander, brought an amiable knowledge to the process that I can only envy.
The Canadian Room of the Royal York, once the largest banquet hall in the country when the old hotel was THE hotel of Ontario, was filled with those who know personally what it is like to plan each day like chess moves because just going from A to C makes B difficult.
I remember when levering myself into a wheelchair and just moving around my hospital room took 15 minutes. When I could sort of walk again, I went to the opening of the 2011 Canadian National Exhibition because as the former president I had always been assured how accessible we were.
They gave me a new scooter which I so jammed into an elevator corner, I was afraid I couldn't get out without a small crane. I fled the building only to face doors so heavy, it took two smiling families in tandem to get me through.
Right now some readers, or those having this read to them, will tell me to get on with it because now that I can walk again, although occasionally when tired like a drunken sailor, I have left the disability world behind me.
No, I could never forget the Hall, a pantheon of 86 Canadians such as Edwin Baker, Rick Hansen, Bob Rumball, Whipper Billy Watson, Cliff Chadderton and Jeff Healey who left their names engraved on the histories of everything from wrestling and football to jazz, the CNIB and War Amps. And let's not forget David Onley, who was a best-selling author and TV personality before he reminds us daily with his presence as the Queen's rep in Ontario about all those who just can't move around easily.
(What, you say, where's Terry Fox? The hall originally bore his name and supported his wonderful cause but the family for some bizarre reason wanted to remove his name.)
Tracey Ferguson, one of Canada's most accomplished Paralympians, winning gold medals in wheelchair basketball in three world championship and three Paralympics, is an honourable addition to the Hall which trumpets our world contribution in sport and administration to the Paralympics.
Ann Caine is the inspiration behind the Sunrise therapeutic riding and learning centre which has so often been the source of those media pictures that tug at you when you see a little crippled kid perched on a big horse. Learning independence on the back of an accepting animal.
Robert Hampson is only 20 but has had lifetimes of chemotherapy, needles, operations and trips to emergency. It doesn't stop him from his commitment to Variety Village and competitive swimming.
Joyce Thompson, a former colleague on the Hall's selection committee, is remembered for her prodigious contribution to the deaf-blind who she once described to the Sun as an entire hidden population with no support. She certainly provided decades of that before her death.
When Mary and I left the luncheon, moving carefully because of her hip and knee replacements, I refrained from my usual cursing frustration at the mazes that pedestrians and motorists must endure at such major intersections as Front and Bay and Front and Spadina. We are herded like cattle, that is when we can move at all in the confusion where escalators often don't work and stairs are like mountain slopes.
Just a more arduous passage for Mary and me. Not like those we left behind when the mountain of the downtown hotel is like a medieval castle with moats and drawbridges and the enemy is your dwindling energy.