The following is an article I wrote for the July 2012 issue of The Vulcan Runner, the monthly newsletter for the Birmingham Track Club. I received some good feedback on the article so I thought I would share it here too.
The Marathon of Hope
When I was 14 or 15 years old, I remember a news story the national media would update every few nights. There was a guy, a kid actually, trying to run across Canada and he only had one leg! I was NOT a runner at that time and did not understand the significance of the athletic challenge he was undertaking. I just thought it was crazy that anyone, especially someone with an obvious handicap, would try something so formidable. It was not until I was older that I heard the story about the Marathon of Hope. It made such an impact on me that I have wanted to go to Vancouver for several years just to see the statue of Terry Fox, the young man who impacted a nation.
Terrance Stanley “Terry” Fox was born on 28 July 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, a community near Vancouver. By all accounts, he was an active teenager involved in many sports. In 1977, at the age of 18, he received a diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) and the doctors had to amputate his right leg about six inches above his knee. While in the hospital, the suffering of other cancer patients, many of which were young children, so affected Terry that he decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. He called his journey the Marathon of Hope and his initial goal was to raise $1 million.
Beginning by dipping his leg in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland, on 12 April 1980, Terry’s goal was to complete his trek by dipping it again in the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver. His pace was daunting. He planned to average a marathon a day. At this time, no one had ever attempted something like this. After 18 months of training and over 3,100 miles to prepare, Terry started his run with little fanfare. Although it was difficult to garner attention in the beginning, enthusiasm grew and the money he was collecting began to accumulate. Over the course of 143 days and 3,339 miles, Terry ran through Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario before he had to stop.
He was unable to finish the run because the cancer spread to his lung, forcing him to abandon the course on 1 September 1980 just northeast of Thunder Bay, ironically near the small village of Marathon, Ontario. An entire nation was stunned and saddened. A few days later, Canada’s CTV network telecast an impromptu telethon to carry on Terry’s dream of raising money for cancer research and to, in spirit, keep the Marathon of Hope alive. Many Canadian and Hollywood celebrities participated in the event, which raised more than $10 million. In the end, the Marathon of Hope raised $22 million.
On 28 June 1981, Terry passed away one month before his 23rd birthday. However, his Marathon of Hope captured the attention of a nation. Canada’s inspirational warrior was gone, but his legacy was just beginning. He became a national hero and, to date, over $600 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry’s name through the annual Terry Fox Runs held across Canada, in the United States, and around the world.
Terry’s heroism has inspired other Canadians to attempt similar feats in the name of charitable causes. This includes Steve Fonyo, another runner who also had a leg amputated as a result cancer. He retraced Terry’s route and then proceeded to complete the run to the west coast in the name of cancer research. A paraplegic athlete and close friend of Terry’s, Rick Hansen, was also inspired to make his own trek around the world in his wheelchair to raise funds for spinal cord injury research.
Terry’s impact on his country cannot be underestimated. Canada Post issued a Terry Fox Stamp on 13 April 1982. Prior to this, no other stamp had been issued until ten years after the death of the honoree. In December 1990, The Sports Network (TSN) named Terry Fox Athlete of the Decade. The field included Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. The Terry Fox Hall of Fame was created on 11 February 1994 to provide permanent recognition to Canadians who have made extraordinary personal contributions to assist or enhance the lives of people with physical disabilities. On 30 June 1999, Terry was voted Canada’s Greatest Hero in a national survey. He was once again immortalized on a Canadian postage stamp on 17 January 2000. This time he was part of the prestigious Millennium Collection of influential and distinguished Canadians of the 20th Century. These are only a few of the honors posthumously bestowed on Terry. You can Google Terry and find an endless array of information about him.
I will be heading to Vancouver in mid-August to run the SeaWheeze lululemon athletica Half Marathon with several members of The Village Runners. To be honest, I think I am much more excited about the opportunity to get my picture made with the statue of Terry Fox than anything else, and that includes the race.