Join Date: Jul 2007
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He stopped running at Thunder Bay
He stopped running at Thunder Bay having passed, ironically, through Marathon a few days before. He could no longer breathe, his vision was blurred, and the aspirin could no longer dull the pain. At the hospital he was given the bad news; his cancer had returned.
In 1977, my mother had already been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Terry Fox woke up to find his leg gone. He had a rare type of cancer, osteosarcoma. It had started in his knee and to try to prevent it's spread they took his leg. Even with the surgery his odds were only 50/50 that he would survive long.
He did his rehab. A few years passed. Cancer took my mom. Terry thought about the people he had met at the hospital, others with cancer. He read that research for cancer was underfunded so he did what most 21 year-olds might do in such a situation. On April 12th, 1980, at the most eastern point in Canada, he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean and began running a marathon.
Every day. For the next 143 days and 3,339 miles.
The goal was simple: run across Canada and raise money for cancer research.
There was no high tech robotic limb of today to replace his missing leg. The hinge was replaced with a rust proof one but otherwise it was standard issue, more a “contraption” than anything else. His running style wasn’t elegant, more of a skip and a hop. When critics said it wasn’t really running his answer was simply “this is the best I can do”. There was no fancy entourage, just a van driven by a high school friend, and a vehicle for the cancer society volunteer with a cardboard sign that said “donations accepted here”. He wore a cheesy 80’s T-Shirt with cheap iron-on letters:
“Marathon of Hope”
He ran through snow, wind, and rain. Eastern Canada in April isn’t a tropical paradise. Cars would run him off the road. His stump would bleed. Response was light. He wanted to raise a dollar from everybody in Canada for cancer research. Weeks in he had barely raised a dollar from everyone in Moose Crossing, Yukon.
Fate is funny. A year after Terry’s leg was removed a man named Isadore Sharp lost his son to melanoma. Isadore Sharp owned the Four Seasons hotel chain. He heard about Terry and spread the word and made sure Terry at least no longer slept in the van.
Watching Terry run 26 miles every day on one good leg resonated. Soon crowds were coming out to greet him. Coffee shops in small towns would empty to cheer him as he came through. Small kids would run alongside and hand him coins from their piggy banks. People would stuff bills into the plastic donation bag. But better still businesses would drop checks, sometimes quite large into the pile of change and bills.
He started getting requests. “Can you run through here and give a talk? We think we can raise some money”. So he made a detour. And kept making detours. He ran through his 22nd birthday. Then he took a day off. It was to swim with a 10 year old, one legged kid who also suffered from osteosarcoma. When talking about the swim the guy who had run 26 miles every day for months on one leg and a few aspirins, who had osteosarcoma himself, broke down and cried.
26 miles, every day. Running a marathon every day is hard. He was human. He could get angry. He could get grumpy. He sure wasn’t Superman. It took him over ten minutes to run each of those miles. When he came down with tendonitis and had to be flown to a hospital he missed two more days, but only because his friend fibbed and told him the flight back was cancelled because of weather. His friend, Doug Alward who drove behind him every day for 143 days, said this was the only time he ever lied to Terry.
Terry kept running. By now most of Canada was watching. People would have maps in their homes and every day would mark where he ran. They didn’t care that he wasn’t Superman. He was a darn tough kid. Companies wanted him to endorse their products. He refused. All money was to go to the Cancer Society. A company donated T-shirts that looked a little more professional. They still read “Marathon of Hope” but the iron-on message was now silk screened.
The crowds got bigger. Pass the hat, thank the folks for coming. Meet Bobby Orr. Visit with the Prime Minister. Open the CFL season. Then run some more.
Then he stopped because he couldn’t run anymore.
Less than a year later he was gone. While he was in the hospital getting chemo he realized he had no money to buy his mom a Christmas present. His brother gave him a few dollars and Terry bought her a wastepaper basket. It was a nice basket.
His Dad said he thought it was Terry’s honesty that brought people out. When he told his Mom about his plan she asked why he didn’t just run across British Columbia.
“Because it’s not just people in BC that get cancer”.
A bit after his funeral the CBC did a Terry Fox telethon. They raised $10 million. Added to the other donations the total came in at $23 million, nearly a dollar from every Canadian. Today that figure is $600 million, about $20 from every Canuck. It’s all gone to research, like Terry wanted.
I wrote this piece a number of years ago. Came across it when I was putting together some clips for a magazine assignment.
When I wrote it I had a heavy dose of Lance fatigue. For me Terry's story was a nice offset to dealing with "what good outweighs what evil" conversations. That we have to pit cancer against utterly reprehensible behavior was quite sad indeed. Terry's a reminder that there are true and good things.