An edited version of the following article appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on Tuesday, October 2, 2001
The Challenge returns to Ontario
Mike Nemesvary, a former champion freestyle skier, is attempting to become the first quadriplegic to drive around the world - a 40,000 kilometer trek to raise funds for spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.
Greetings from Thunder Bay! At last, we're back in our home province of Ontario and for the first time in over six months, back in the same time zone.
I must apologize for not submitting more frequent updates but all I can say in my defense is, that I've never been busier in my life -- imagine three year's worth of memories and activities compressed into six months and I think you can get a sense of how much has happened in such a short span of time.
At times I'm grasping at straws to try and recall with any sense of objectivity what has transpired during this last half year. Thank god we have documented the trip through our logs, many photos and considerable videotape of all the beautiful places we've visited, the interesting people we've met, the distances travelled, the challenges we've overcome and the multitude of daily occurrences which have made this a greater "Challenge" than I could have ever imagined!
I offer my sincere thank you to all my Ottawa friends who have provided their support (large and small) and my hat goes off to all of the readers who have followed our exciting journey here and on the website. And thank you to my close friends and supporters who have provided their own unique wisdom and perspectives by contributing to the Citizen articles over these past months.
Thunder Bay is a significant milestone in the journey. First, we have arrived at our first stop in our home province of Ontario and second, it is the home of Canadian hero, Terry Fox. If not for Terry and his determination to push himself and his disability to the limit to raise awareness and funds for cancer, perhaps other adventurers like Rick Hansen or John Ryan (a paraplegic who hand-cycled across Canada) would not have had the vision and the courage to follow in Terry's footsteps and challenge their own disabilities in order to raise the public conscience and funds for spinal cord injury. As Canadians with disabilities, Terry Fox is someone that we look up to as a role model as he was one of the first to challenge preconceived notions about what a person with a disability could accomplish.
After being on the road for so long it was a wonderful feeling on the morning of Tuesday, September 4th, to drive from Bellingham, Washington, some 40 kilometers north and across the Canadian border at the famous British Columbia Peace Arch to be greeted by so many friends, sponsors and well-wishers. I have never been prouder to be Canadian. One needs only a small time away from this great nation to appreciate how fortunate we are, how much abundance we have and just how much we take for granted.
This is even more reinforced when you travel with a severe disability. Quite apart from issues that affect all travellers such as worrying about the water we drink, being able to make a phone call, parking in a secure location, knowing if you break down that you won't be stranded for days, our vital issues are even more fundamental to our very survival. We need to be concerned about access to emergency healthcare and availability of medical supplies and medications; rapid repair of essential mobility equipment such as wheelchairs, hand controls and vehicle lifts; wheelchair accessible accommodations, restaurants and shops. But mostly, we need the positive attitudes of others - the acceptance and integration of people of disabilities.
After four years of planning and hard work, our goal is now within sight. As much as we have done to plan for the worst, mitigate potential risks and adversity, deal with setbacks and focus on our objectives, we have had luck, good fortune and great timing on our side. Suffice to say, this component of the "Challenge" became quite evident after the recent horrifying attacks on the United States. I have been in a position over the past six months to bear witness to the horrible consequences of war and terrorism. The carnage, human suffering and economic repercussions of war were all too apparent during our trips through countries like Northern Ireland, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. Many of my visits to hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centres in these countries included one-on-one meetings and conversations with people who had been injured as a result of war. In many of these countries, an incredibly large proportion of people with spinal cord injuries are a direct result of a gun-shot bullet to the spinal cord.
I consider it a great privilege and very fortunate timing to have completed our land passage through some of these countries that are directly and indirectly implicated in the imminent war on terrorism. It is my belief that in the future it may be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to obtain entry/exit visas through much of the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent for many years to come.
After visiting 18 countries over the past 188 days we have clocked 37,273 kilometers ... just one month, a dozen towns/cities and 3,182 kilometers further to go! We are scheduled to return to Ottawa this coming October 23rd. I can only hope that our good fortune will continue and that we'll arrive safe and sound on Parliament Hill as planned.
A huge THANK YOU goes out
to our many corporate partners including Pfizer and Minto Corporation
and to all the individuals on the road and in Ottawa to have supported
us and believed in the project ... We're bringin' it on home!
To get involved or to donate to the Round The World Challenge, please visit our web site at http://www.roundtheworldchallenge.com or contact the office at 613-274-7955.