Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 29, 2007

U of G Staff, Grads Setting Wheels in Motion

When Rick Hansen was wheeling his way around the world in 1987 to raise money and awareness for people with spinal cord injuries, University of Guelph graduates and staff members’ Laurie Arnott, Cyndy McLean and Sandra Burton were teenagers.

They hardly knew who Hansen was, let alone understood anything about spinal cord injuries. After all, the three teenagers never imagined that they, too, would one day navigate life from a wheelchair.

But two decades later, the women have come together to mark the 20th anniversary of Hansen’s groundbreaking journey, which involved the former Canadian Olympic wheelchair champion wheeling 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries over a two-year period.

They are heading the organizing committee for Guelph’s fourth annual Wheels in Motion, which will be held June 10 at the University of Guelph.

The event begins at noon at the University’s W. F. Mitchell Athletics Centre, with registration at 11 a.m. It is sponsored by U of G, the Athletic Club and CIBC Wood Gundy (Chris Bedard).

This year’s Wheels in Motion has a new addition, a relay challenge that will have teams competing against one another to complete everyday tasks like grocery shopping and getting dressed from a wheelchair.

“It helps raise awareness because people get a tiny idea of what challenges you face when you’re in a wheelchair,” said McLean, director of U of G’s Health and Performance Centre and a Guelph graduate.

There will also be the traditional “wheel, walk, run or bike” component where people collect pledges either individually or as a team and then cover a 2.5-kilometre course around campus.

Half of the net funds raised stay in the host community to support high-priority needs and services; the rest goes to fund national spinal cord research. Last year, more than $30,000 was raised locally, with McLean and Arnott collecting more than $3,000 each. In addition, a team headed by McLean was the top fundraising group in Canada, bringing in more than $12,000.

The numerous and expensive needs of people with spinal cord injuries is something that all three women on the organizing committee know about first-hand.

Arnott was 18, in the midst of her first year at the University of Western Ontario, when she suddenly became very ill with a virus that attacked her spinal cord and left her with permanent nerve damage. She later transferred to U of G, graduating in 1999, and is now a human rights consultant for the Human Rights and Equity Office.

Burton, a 1998 Guelph graduate and a speech pathologist for preschoolers at KidsAbility in Waterloo, was also a teenager when she was injured. She was playfully tossed into a backyard swimming pool and struck her head on the pool’s concrete bottom. She now has complete quadriplegia.

McLean suffered a spinal cord injury in 2003 in an equally bizarre incident. She was hiking on a peninsula in Michigan when both she and her dog fell more than 100 feet off a cliff. She is now paraplegic.

“If you look at the statistics for spinal cord injury, you’ll find that 82 per cent of people injured are young men between the ages of 16 and 30,” said McLean.

“The three of us don’t really fit the stereotype, yet here we are, all around the same age, sitting around the table planning this event. We are very connected to each other and at similar points in our lives.”

For more information or to participate in the Guelph Wheels in Motion, contact McLean at 519 824-4120, Ext. 53319, or via email,

Cyndy McLean
519-824-4120, Ext. 53319

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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