Terry Fox and the Marathon of Hope


A Canadian hero like None Other

The first time I learned about Terry Fox, I was in elementary school. I remember sitting in the gym along with the rest of my school to watch a short video about the Marathon of Hope, before heading outside to participate in my school’s annual Terry Fox Run/Walk, something I looked forward to each September. To me, Terry Fox is a major personal inspiration. His story of strength, dedication, passion, and perseverance continuously encourages me to never give up on myself. To me, he is also a genuine Canadian hero because, despite his pain and personal struggle, he made a tremendous effort with the hope of forever eliminating cancer, leaving behind a legacy that has remained 39 years later.

At 18 and less than a year into his kinesiology program at Simon Fraser University, Terry was diagnosed with Osteogenic Sarcoma, or bone cancer, and was told that his right leg, just above the knee, had to be amputated. Although many people would have likely responded negatively to this life-changing news, this was not the case for Terry. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he became dedicated to helping others with cancer.

The night before his amputation, Terry read an article about Dick Traun, an amputee runner who had recently run the New York Marathon. His story became the inspiration behind Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.

Following his surgery and 16 months of chemotherapy, Terry began rebuilding his physical strength, first playing wheelchair basketball and then running. He was working his way up to 3,000 miles to prepare himself for the task of running across Canada to raise money for cancer research. Despite the physical pain Terry experienced, including numerous blisters on his feet and a bruised and bloodied stump, he never gave up on himself but rather, pushed himself harder – to achieve more and go further.

On April 12, 1980, just three years after being diagnosed with bone cancer, Terry dipped his right leg into the Atlantic Ocean, marking the official start of the Marathon of Hope.

Regardless of the weather, for 143 consecutive days Terry ran 26 miles, roughly a full marathon each day. In four months, Terry ran 3,339 miles, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, until just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario when the return of his cancer forced him to stop.

Despite Terry’s determination to endure the necessary cancer treatment and continue running across Canada, he realized that doing so may not be a possibility, stressing, that “even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”

Unfortunately on June 28, 1981, after ten months of battling through more cancer treatment, Terry passed away just before dawn – his favourite running time. Although Terry’s life ended much too early, thanks to the efforts of Montreal philanthropist, Isadore Sharp, Terry’s effort has been significantly honoured and commemorated with the annual Terry Fox Run/ Walk held every September, on the second Sunday following Labour Day.

Just three months after his death, the first annual Terry Fox Run was held in September 1981, involving 300,000 participants and raising around $3.5 million. Since then, this commemorative event has quickly expanded, not only throughout all of Canada, due to the efforts of Sharp and the Terry Fox Foundation, but also to other parts of the world as well, such as India and Ireland.

In addition to an annual run/walk, Terry’s efforts have also been significantly honoured in a variety of other ways. He received two major awards – including the Companion of the Order of Canada on September 18, 1980 and the Order of Dogwood on October 21, 1980 – and has had numerous schools, parks, monuments, and even a mountain in B.C. named after him. Additionally, in 2005, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a loonie with his image to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his initial run.

This Sunday marks Regina’s 39th annual Terry Fox Run/Walk and although it is only a morning event, it takes much longer to put together and organize. According to Quinn Craigie, a Donor Relations Representative from the Saskatchewan and Manitoba branches of the Terry Fox Foundation, the Terry Fox Run/Walk is “100 per cent volunteer run” and it is only because of the help from “thousands of volunteers across the country.” Planning for the Terry Fox Run/Walk usually begins “in April and May, [with] volunteer run organizers and run committees [putting] in countless hours over many months planning, promoting, and executing their event.

In 1989, the Terry Fox Foundation was established and today there are branches set up in nine Canadian provinces. Nationally, the foundation has a staff of around 40 individuals, which includes two permanent staff members and one contract staff member in Regina.”

While the Terry Fox Foundation is most known for hosting the annual Terry Fox Run/Walk, it is busy year-round donating funds raised to various research initiatives and projects dealing with multiple types of cancer. One main example of this is with the Terry Fox Institute, which was founded in October 2007 and is currently based in Vancouver. The TFI works with 70 different Canadian cancer research organizations and hospitals to fund research and discover treatment that can be used to benefit cancer patients throughout the world.

I would strongly encourage everyone to get involved in some way, whether that is participating, volunteering with a local event/fundraiser, donating money, or simply reflecting on how much Terry has benefited not just Canadians, but the entire world. Everyone has been impacted by cancer, either personally, through a family member, or friend. It is because of Terry Fox’s ambition, dedication, perseverance, effort, and action that not only has $750 million been raised for Cancer research, but that the hope of a future without cancer is a possibility we continue to strive towards. Terry Fox may be gone, but his legacy and story will continue to inspire and provide hope, showing that his words hold true: “anything is possible if you try. Dreams are made of people trying.”

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