An edited version of the following article appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on Wednesday, October 10, 2001
Warm support on home stretch
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. He is due to return to Ottawa on October 23.
Greetings from downtown Toronto.
It seems quite appropriate to be writing a report on this at Thanksgiving as there are so many people to thank for our safe and successful journey so far.
Our Toronto Organizing Committee chaired by former Toronto mayor, David Crombie, distinguished themselves through excellent organization, some memorable fundraising events and informative visits to area rehabilitation hospitals.
The week began with a morning visit to "Bloorview MacMillan Children's Rehabilitation Centre. I met with a 10 year old paraplegic named Dustin, his Mom and physiotherapist. Dustin had an infectious smile and a positive attitude to match. He was determined to remain physical despite his disability and we talked about him learning to play wheelchair lacrosse, sledge hockey and sit skiing. Regardless of Dustin's tender age and relatively new injury he was ready to challenge his new life's circumstances and even inspired an old "quad" like myself!
Later that morning, we toured the Centre's "Driver Rehabilitation Services" program which is amongst the best of its kind in North America. The program has successfully trained may people with spinal cord injuries to get back in the driver's seat including some individuals with very high levels of spinal cord injury.
For example, we met Heather, 28, who became a quadriplegic (level C 5/6) as a passenger in a motor vehicle collision around 10 years ago. Coincidentally, earlier on the morning we met, she had passed her final on-road driver's examination and she was exhilarated.
The level of technology installed in Heather's van allowed her to become mobile and independent. Driving from her electric wheelchair, Heather uses her left wrist in a splint to engage a lever for electronic gas and brake. To steer, Heather places her right wrist in a splint situated on top of a small diameter remote electronic steering wheel (1/3 the size of the regular wheel), located on a consul between the driver and passenger seats.
All of the vehicle's secondary controls, including the gear shifter, have been wired through a display panel and are activated by Heather's voice commands as she drives wearing a headset and microphone attached on a boom. If she wants to select turn indicators, wipers, horn, lights, etc. she need only say the word and in a split-second the action is completed for her including a verbal acknowledgement that the command has been completed.
Heather was proud to mention that she is driving the most technologically advanced vehicle in Ontario. I'd go one step further and say, in my opinion, she is driving one of the most advanced vehicles in the world.
Over the next three days I had illuminating visits to all of the larger rehabilitation hospital in Toronto including: St. John's Adult Rehabilitation Hospital, Lynhurst Rehabilitation Centre, West Park Healthcare Centre and the University of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. All of the various healthcare facilities greeted us openly and were highly supportive of the 'Round the World Challenge and our efforts to raise awareness and funds for rehabilitation and research.
One of the week's highlights was a fundraising luncheon Thursday, October 4th held at the Westin Harbourfront Hotel. With a police motorcycle escort and two trumpeters, I drove my modified truck directly into the conference centre to a standing ovation and appreciative, clapping audience of approximately 300 people. Among the dignitaries at the head table were Ron McLean (hockey announcer and Honorary Spokesman for the Canadian Paraplegic Association), Roger Greenberg (RWC Board Member and President of Minto Corp.) and Don Sancton (Vice President, Corporate Affairs of Pfizer Corp - RWC Global Sponsor). I had the opportunity to give a keynote address to the audience and let everyone know how much it meant to have such generous support from Ontario not to mention, getting the best parking spot in the house! I was pleased to learn that the event raised more than $15,000.00.
Later on that evening we danced the night away at the "Indian Motorcycle Café" for another fundraising party. The event drew more than 200 party goers and well-wishers who came to listen to two local bands - "Days of You" and "10th Planet" who donated their time to help our cause.
My hat goes off to my old and new friends on the Toronto Organizing Committee for their commitment and outstanding effort in welcoming us "almost home".
After visiting 20 countries over the past 204 days we have now clocked 39,262 kilometres ... just two weeks, a few towns/cities and 1,193 kilometres further to go!
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.