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'We'll all be doing this together,' Hansen says of Thermal climb

When Rick Hansen thinks about climbing Thermal Drive - the steepest hill on his global Man in Motion tour 25 years ago - he pictures it in stages. From the bottom at St.

When Rick Hansen thinks about climbing Thermal Drive - the steepest hill on his global Man in Motion tour 25 years ago - he pictures it in stages.

From the bottom at St. Johns Street, its northern point in Port Moody, there's a relatively challenging grade along Moray Street - past Pinda Drive and Portview Place - before it levels out at Brookmount Avenue.

From there, it's a gentle hike to the four-way stop at Mohawk Avenue in Coquitlam, where the city's sign commemorating the 1987 Man in Motion climb is posted, to get to the second stage.

But the road past Pinecrest Avenue and Park Crescent is, by far, the most gruelling ascent, a struggle for even an elite athlete. The mount eventually eases to Baker Drive until the third stage rolls up to Robertson and Seymour drives, before Thermal levels out and winds its way to its southern point at Como Lake Avenue.

To drive the 1.9-km route takes several minutes. Hansen hopes to complete the trek - or at least a good portion of it, from Mohawk to Seymour, rising to 532.4 ft above sea level - in under 30 minutes in his wheelchair, a feat that's daunting to even the most able of body.

Hansen made the decision to wheel the hill - just as he did for the Man in Motion 10th and 20th anniversaries - this past February when his national relay was in the prairies.

Talking it over with his logistical team, there was no question Thermal would be part of the relay. The only question was: Would Hansen be up to taking on this hill for a fourth time?

"I said, 'Well, I don't know if I can handle that. It's quite a challenge,'" he recalled. "Five years ago, it was a huge challenge and I was younger.

"I think the most important thing to approach Thermal hill this time was be less about me wheeling the hill but, like the original tour, it's an example and metaphor of how challenging and how rewarding and how significant the 25th has been, and the Man in Motion theme being applied at Thermal," he said.

Since his cross-Canada venture started on Aug. 24, 2011 in Cape Spear, NL, more than 7,000 Canadian "difference makers" have carried the Rick Hansen medal over the 12,000 km route, passing through 600 communities and raising awareness and cash for spinal cord research.

The Tri-Cities' portion starts Thursday when the relay travels over the Pitt River bridge, through Port Coquitlam and ends at Coquitlam's Spirit Square (behind city hall) for a public party. On Friday, Day 269 begins at Coquitlam's Spirit Square and continues to Rocky Point Park in Port Moody before looping back to Thermal Drive.

There, at around 10:15 a.m., it is expected hundreds of school children and well-wishers will line or climb the hill with Hansen; those who walk with him can wear the "I Survived Thermal" banner proudly, Hansen said.

"In that spirit of it, I'm incredibly excited because we'll have our relay participants, the medal bearers, members of our foundation team, youth and community members," he said. "We'll all be doing this together and, for me, that's so appropriate for the 25th."

He added, "I'm approaching it with a sense of gratitude because the community is embracing this."

Still, though he can count on the energy and enthusiasm to buoy him on climb day, he has also had four months of physical preparation to tackle it. Hansen has been wheeling regularly on the relay and even has stationary rollers on which to train.

He'll try to get a good sleep the night before - "though that's a little challenging because of the anticipation and excitement - I'll be pretty pumped up," he said - and he'll eat a sensible breakfast on Friday, perhaps a smoothie, and a combination of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates. Water is key to keep fluid levels up, too, he said.

As for his advanced age of 54 and whether he'll be thinking like a 29-year-old again at the start line, Hansen said, "Life is about a journey and you take your past experiences with you but you become aware of who you are today and what your passions and limitations are, and you try to find that balance.

"In my approach to the hill this time, my goal is to complete the journey successfully but not break a world record. The hill seems insurmountable but the only way you do it is you put your hands on the wheels and you push hard - one stroke at a time."

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Read on Friday afternoon to view our stories, photos and videos of the Rick Hansen relay through the Tri-Cities - including Hansen's ascent of Thermal Drive.