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The annual Terry Fox Run happened this past Sunday, September 20th, across Canada. And as I watched coverage of Toronto's Terry Fox Run on the news, I wondered just how much people outside Canada actually know about Terry Fox and what he did. I'm sure that, say, American news covered Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope, which happened in 1980, but that was an entire generation ago. I honestly don't know if schools outside of Canada teach about this Canadian hero and the impact that he's had on cancer research. Looking at the Terry Fox Run website, I do see that there were two runs in the United States this year, and some in other countries, but I don't know how widespread the knowledge of his story is. I thought that it would appropriate to tell it here, especially since he was a disabled man when he decided to do what he did.
Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope
Terry was born on and brought up on Canada's west coast. He was 18 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and was forced to have his right leg amputated 6 inches above the knee in 1977.
Terry had always been a good athlete, well-known and respected at Simon Fraser University for working very hard on the junior varsity basketball team. After seeing the suffering of other cancer patients in the hospital, he decided to put his athletic training to use, raising money for cancer research.
Terry trained for 18 months for what he would call his Marathon of Hope. On April 20, 1980 he started running in St. John's, Newfoundland, on Canada's east coast, with a prosthetic on his right leg. He he was determined to run all the way across Canada, and to raise $22 million dollars - a dollar for each person in Canada. The media caught wind of what he was doing, and the pledges started to come in. All of Canada was behind him.
Unfortunately, cancer appeared in Terry's lungs and he was forced to quit running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on September 1, 1980. He'd been running for 143 days and had gotten more than halfway across Canada - 3,339 miles. He died in June, 1981.
“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”
And it does. To date, the annual Terry Fox Runs held across Canada and internationally have raised $650 million for cancer research. Here are some of the initiatives to which the raised money has gone.
Terry Fox: What I Think Of
When I think of the Terry Fox Run, I think of Elizabeth McClung, one of my first blogger friends. Even though she was terminally ill herself with a disease that doctors didn't understand, she used to do the Terry Fox Run each year. She'd walk as long as she could, and then her wife and friends would push her in her wheelchair. I remember that the last year she did the Terry Fox Run, her health was so bad, I feared that it would kill her.
It didn't. She knew that there was a risk that it could, and that the exertion on her body would at least put of her out of commission for several days. Perhaps it hastened her death; it's hard to say. But she felt that it was important to try to walk/wheel as much of Victoria's 5 km route as she could.
That's the kind of effect that Terry Fox's story still has on Canadians.
Regular readers know that I don't like the word "inspiration", but it's easy to tell from hearing people who witnessed the Marathon of Hope describe how it affected them that Canadians really did consider him one. And, 35 years after his death, people still do.
Supporting Terry's Legacy
The Terry Fox Run is over for this year, but you don't have to participate in a Terry Fox Run or pledge a runner to support the Terry Fox legacy. The Terry Fox Foundation accepts donations year-round through the Terry Fox Website.
“Some people can’t figure out what I’m doing. It’s not a walk-hop, it’s not a trot, it’s running, or as close as I can get to running, and it’s harder than doing it on two legs. It makes me mad when people call this a walk. If I was walking it wouldn’t be anything. - Terry Fox”
1980 article about Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope
Excerpts from Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope Journal
Photos of Terry Fox running the Marathon of Hope