Terry Fox

Before you read about Terry Fox, one of Canada’s National heroes, I must warn you – you may need tissues. My eyes kept welling up with tears as I put this blog post together. If you’ve never heard of Terry, once you do you’ll never be able say you can’t do something every again.

“I don’t feel that this is unfair. That’s the thing about cancer. I’m not the only one, it happens all the time to people. I’m not special. This just intensifies what I did. It gives it more meaning. It’ll inspire more people. I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try.”
– Terry Fox


On April 12th, 1980 Terry Fox set off on his Marathon of Hope. His goal was to run a marathon each day starting in St John’s Newfoundland and ending in Victoria, BC six months later. Along the way his aim was to raise $22 million for cancer research, which represented one dollar from every person in Canada.

At the beginning no one knew what to make of this man who ran with a hop-skip type of gait on a squeaky prosthetic leg. At the age of 18, Terry had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had his right leg amputated six inches above the knee.

For a former high school athlete of the year who thought he had only injured a cartilage or ligament in his knee, losing a leg could have driven him to despair. The suffering of fellow cancer patients, many of them children, that Terry witnessed during his treatment compelled him to do something. Three years later Terry began his Marathon of Hope.

As he made his way through Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, Quebec and into Ontario more and more Canadians became aware of his quest. Donations started pouring in. People would line up along the route and cheer him on. Some would run or bike alongside him and press money into his hand or give it to the van following him. Drivers would slow down and donate money. His spunk and determination had captured the hearts of Canadians from coast to coast.

An Unexpected Turn of Events

Unfortunately on September 1st, the run came to a sudden halt just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. After 143 days and 5,373 kilometers, Terry was having difficulty breathing along with chest pain. He asked his brother to drive him to the hospital. It was there that he found out that the cancer had come back and spread to his lungs.

The next day Terry gave an interview to reporters, with his parents by his side, from an ambulance stretcher. He explained that the cancer had spread to his lungs and that he needed to return home for treatment. “If there’s any way I can get out there again and finish it I will…. I hope that people will take off and continue where I left off here.”1

He got his wish. A couple days later CTV hosted a telethon and raised $10 million for cancer research.

On June 28, 1981 Terry lost his battle with cancer, just one month short of his 23rd birthday. On September 13 of that year, the first-ever Terry Fox Run was held and $3.5 million was raised.

The Legacy Continues

Isadore Sharp, Four Seasons Hotel president, had suggested the idea of an annual run to Terry as a way to continue raising money for cancer research. Terry’s Mom Betty became the public spokesperson. The 30th Annual Terry Fox Run was held this past weekend with runs worldwide. In 30 years the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $550 million for cancer research.

As per Terry’s diary entry2 of Day 15: “I want to set an example that will never be forgotten.” Thirty years later Terry Fox is definitely not forgotten. There was even a push by Canadians to have Betty, Terry’s mom, light the Olympic Cauldron at the 2010 Winter Games. (That didn’t happen but she was one of the eight who carried the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremonies.)

Before 9/11 I always heard that Americans, of a certain age, remembered where they were when JFK was shot. I remember where I was when Terry Fox died. It was morning and we were driving to U.B.C. for field hockey practice. We were fairly upbeat and then just sat their stunned, in silence, as we heard the news.

You Just Never Know…

When I was searching for video clips on the CBC website(1), I noticed this preamble:

“The night before his right leg was amputated, Terry Fox read about an amputee who ran the New York City Marathon. The article inspired Terry’s Marathon of Hope…”

If Dick Traum had not competed in the NYC Marathon on a prosthetic leg, would Terry have come up with the idea of running across Canada? Obviously we’ll never know. It just shows you how much we can inspire another without even knowing it.

1 TV and Radio clip highlights from Terry’s Marathon of Hope
CBC Archives

2 Terry Fox Foundation. Also the source for dates and facts for this blog post.

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