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The podcast episode of this contains interviews with those who were on the Marathon of Hope with Terry, Darryl Sittler and audio from Terry Fox himself during his run.
That sound is something most Canadians can recognize. The sound of Terry Fox as he ran a marathon a day across the country. Within Canada, Terry Fox has emerged as an iconic part of our lore and has reached the status of almost a mythical individual.
Today on the podcast, with 2020 being the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, I am going to look at that marathon from its beginning to its end and beyond.
As with anything to do with the Marathon of Hope, we need to begin with Terry Fox. Fox was born on July 28, 1958 in Winnipeg to Rolland and Betty Fox. Within the family Fox had an older brother named Fred, a younger brother named Darrell and a younger sister named Judith.
When Terry was eight, the family would move to Surrey, British Columbia and then to Port Coquitlam two years later. As a young man, Terry was known for being very competitive and committed to whatever activity he was involved in, with a strong desire to succeed.
A gifted and enthusiastic athlete, Terry would play soccer, rugby, baseball and basketball, before taking up distance running on the suggestion of his coach Bob McGill in grade eight. This suggestion was made as Terry wanted to play basketball but his coach felt he would be more suited to running. In grade eight, Terry played one minute per game with the basketball team. Every summer, he would work on his basketball ability and in grade nine he was a regular player, in grade ten he was a starter and by grade 12, he was the school’s athlete of the year.
On Nov. 12, 1976 following a car accident that injured his knee, Terry began to notice that his knee continued to hurt him through the basketball season until the point came when he decided he needed to go to the hospital. In March of 1977, he would be diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer that starts near the knees.
He was told he had a 50 per cent chance of survival with the removal of the leg below the knee and chemotherapy. Two years earlier, the rate of survival would have been 15 per cent but cancer research had improved the diagnosis. Learning this, he saw the importance of cancer research, which would inspire him in a few years.
The night before he would go through his amputation, Terry read an article about the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon. This article would inspire him to do the same, but in a much grander way.
Three weeks after his amputation, Terry would be walking, which would progress towards golf with his father. With a strong positive outlook, he would make a rapid recovery while also dealing with 16 months of chemotherapy. It was during his time at the British Columbia Cancer Control Agency facility that he saw fellow cancer patients suffer and die.
Once his treatment ended, he decided that with his own survival tied to medical advances, he wanted to help others find courage in the face of cancer.
In the summer of 1977, Rick Hansen, a legend in his own right, would invite Terry to join his wheelchair basketball team. Within two months of learning how to play the sport, Fox was a member of the team that played for the national championship in Edmonton and he would win three national titles with the team.
Terry would embark on a 14-month training program, which he told his family was to train for a marathon. Secretly, he had the goal of raising money for cancer research after seeing how little money was dedicated to cancer research during his hospital stays. His goal was to run the length of Canada, hoping to increase cancer awareness. Only his best friend Douglas Alward knew what Terry was working on.
Due to his amputation, Terry was required to run in a hop-step manner that resulted in pain during his training because of the additional pressure he put on both his good leg and his stump. The training and running would lead to blisters, bone bruises and intense pain but he found after 20 minutes, he would cross a pain threshold and his run would be easier.
In February of 1979, he found he could run half a mile around the track. By the end of the month, he was running a mile and Ben Speicher would modify his prosthetic leg so it could withstand the impact of running better.
Over the course of his training, he would run 5,083 kilometres, running every day for 101 days until he was able to run a marathon in a day. He took Christmas off because his mother had asked him to.
On Sept. 2, 1979, Terry competed in a 27-kilometre marathon in Prince George, finishing last and ten minutes behind the closest competitor and other participants at the marathon were at the finish line applauding him for his effort. It was after this marathon that he told his family about his plan to run across Canada. At first, his hope was to raise $1 million, but eventually he decided he wanted to raise $24 million, one dollar for every citizen of Canada.
A month after telling his family about his decision to run, he would send a letter to the Canadian Cancer Society to announce his goal and appeal for funding. In his letter, explaining why he wanted to raise money, he related his own experience of dealing with cancer, stating:
“I soon realized that that would only be half my quest, for as I went through the 16 months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, I was rudely awakened by the feelings of hopeful denial and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop, and I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause.”
He would close his letter saying, “We need your help. The people in cancer clinics all over the world need people who believe in miracles. I am not a dreamer and I am not saying that this will initiate any kind of definite answer or cure to cancer. I believe in miracles. I have to.”
The Cancer Society, while somewhat sceptical of the dedication to run across Canada, agreed to support him but did ask for a medical certificate stating he was fit to run. Doctors, while citing he had an enlarged heart, a common condition with athletes, stated they would endorse his participation if he stopped immediately if he had any heart problems.”
Terry then began sending letters to get support from companies. The Ford Motor Company would provide a camper van, Imperial Oil donated fuel and Adidas gave him running shoes. One aspect of sponsorship that Terry did not waver on was turning away any company that requested he endorse their products and refusing any donation that carried conditions.
On April 12, 1980, after months of preparations and training, Terry dipped his right leg into the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland, and filled two bottles with ocean water. His best friend Doug was on hand to drive the van and cook his meals.
The Marathon of Hope had begun.
Interestingly enough, there was a chance that Terry would begin his journey in another province but just prior to the start of the Marathon of Hope, they would decide to start from St. John’s rather than Halifax.
Each morning, Terry would get up at dawn and run in shorts and a T-shirt with the map of Canada on it. He would run roughly 12 miles in the morning, followed by a break and 14 miles in the afternoon.
The beginning of the Marathon of Hope would come with little fanfare, but as with so much on his journey, his legend would grow from this point. Today, a statue of Terry is at the spot where he dipped his leg into the ocean. It was installed on April 12, 2012, exactly 32 years to the day that he started his journey. The Terry Fox Mile Zero Memorial Site is situated at this spot.
By April 21, Terry had reached Gander and Gambo, Newfoundland and had completed 346 kilometres. Writing in his journal, he would say “it was an exciting day in Gambo. People came and lined up and gave me ten, twenty bucks just like that and that is how we knew that the Run had unlimited potential.”
On May 6, he had reached Port Aux Basque, Newfoundland, a small community of 10,000 people. In that community, $10,000 would be raised and after Terry had left, another $4,000 was raised. By this point, Terry had run 882 kilometres.
Through his run across Newfoundland, Terry would raise $30,000.
It was during these days in the early part of the run that Gail Harvey, who would join Terry along his run through Ontario, would first follow the Marathon of Hope.
Over a week later, he was in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia and had reached 1,278 kilometres of running. Terry would attend a reception with school children and afterwards he would write, “when I ran with the kids I really burned it just to show them how fast I could go. They were tired and puffing.”
It would be around this time that Terry would speak for the first time with Bill Vigars, who had started working at the Canadian Cancer Society three months previous.
On May 20, Terry had run 1,373 kilometres and reached Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. In his journal he would write, “I ran to the vocational school here with 50 students. I ran about a mile. They had raised about $3,000. What a great group of kids. Too bad not everybody was doing that.”
It was also around this time that Darrell Fox would join the run. Tensions could sometimes rise between Doug and Terry due to the close quarters, but Darrell would now act as a buffer and help lighten the mood for both men.
By the next week, Terry had reached his third province, Prince Edward Island and hit 1,728 kilometres. In Charlottetown, he would write, “there were lots of people out to cheer me on and support me. Incredible. I had another dizzy spell during the run. Still freezing but I wasn’t wearing sweats so people could see my leg. I’d run just over 28 miles.”
Three days later, he was running through New Brunswick and had reached Moncton and approached Saint John. Terry would write in his journal, “we learned that Saint John would have nothing organized for us. I try so hard and then get let down. I am going to run right down the city’s Main Street. Doug is going to follow behind and honk. We will be rebels, we will stir up noise. People will know Terry Fox ran out of his way to Saint John for a reason.”
By the time he reached Bristol, New Brunswick on June 6, Terry had passed 2,200 kilometres and support was increasing. He would write, “The first few miles were the usual torture. My foot was blistered bad but my stump wasn’t too bad. Today I had tremendous support. Everybody honked and waved. People all over looked out of their homes and stores and cheered me on.”
On June 7, and after passing into his fourth province, Quebec, Terry would find that many people in the province did not know what he was doing. On June 11, he would write, “The wind howled again all day. Right in my face. It was very difficult constantly running into the wind. It zaps it right out of your body and head. The only people here who know about the Run are the truckers and out-of-province people. Everyone else wants to stop and give me a lift.”
Things would not improve for Terry through Quebec and a few days later he would write that the road was narrow and people were forcing him off the road.
On June 15, once he reached 2,663 kilometres and hit Quebec City, he would meet Gerard Cote, a four-time Boston Marathon winner. He would also be featured on the front page of the newspaper. A week later and 300 kilometres down the road he hit Montreal, running with Montreal Alouette’s kicker Don Sweet and four wheelchair athletes. By the time he had reached Montreal, he had raised $200,000 in donations.
It was also at this time that Isadore Sharp, the founder and CEO of the Four Seasons, heard about Terry. Sharp had lost his own son to cancer in 1978 and he was intrigued by Terry’s run. He would offer Terry food and accommodations at all his hotels along the route. While Terry had become discouraged around this point because so few people were making donations, Sharp legend two dollars a mile and persuaded 1,000 corporations to do the same. This would help encourage Terry to continue and to ensure he would reach Ottawa on July 1, which would help fundraising efforts, he remained in Montreal for a few days, taking some of the only days off during his entire run.
On June 28, Terry not only passed 3,000 kilometres but he also crossed into Ontario and everything was about to change. As he entered into Ontario, a crowd of 200 people were waiting for him, with a band playing and thousands of balloons. At this point, the Ontario Provincial Police would provide him an escort through the entire province.
Upon the arrival in Ontario, Sittler would prepare for his own chance to meet with Terry.
A couple days later, he was just outside Ottawa and would write in his journal, “everybody seems to have given up hope of trying. I haven’t. It isn’t easy and it isn’t supposed to be, but I’m accomplishing something. How many people give up a lot to do something good? I’m sure we would have found a cure for cancer 20 years ago if we had really tried.”
On Canada Day, Terry was in the nation’s capital and was given the choice of going to Parliament Hill or kicking out the opening ball of a CFL game between the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He would kick the football in front of 16,000 screaming fans.
He would also meet the Governor General and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau while in Ottawa.
On July 9, as Terry ran through Pickering, Ontario and reached 3,488 kilometres, John and Edna Neale, who waited hours to see Terry, would comment, “he was just what was needed to give us a little pride in our own people, the same kind Americans have in abundance.”
By July 10, and as Terry reached 3,500 kilometres and arrived in Scarborough, his fame was increasing. He would tell several thousand people who gathered to see him that his fame was not meant to be of the run, and he wasn’t interested in fame or wealth. He was just a guy running across the country to collect money for cancer research.
Arriving in Toronto on July 11, he would be greeted by thousand of people and would meet his hockey idol, Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sittler would give Terry his 1980 NHL All-Star sweater and say, “I’ve been around athletes a long time and I’ve never seen any with his courage and stamina.”
Terry would also throw out the first pitch of a baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians, and meet Bobby Orr, which Terry called the highlight of his journey. Bobby Orr would give Terry a cheque for $25,000.
In his one day in Toronto, it is estimated that Terry raised $100,000 in donations.
One day while running in Ontario, he would collect $20,000 just along the highway from people standing there waiting for him. People of all walks of life did what they could to raise money. One man sat in a vat of lemon custard to raise $912, while a musician gave Terry his $500 guitar because he had no cash.
As Terry’s fame began to grow, the Cancer Society would schedule him for more functions and speeches and Terry did his best to accommodate as he believed it would raise more money.
The response to Terry in Ontario was mirrored throughout the country. Craig Hemingway from Saskatchewan remembers being in school and the celebrations being held for Terry there.
On July 14, Terry had reached Hamilton and was mobbed by people after he spoke at the Royal Botanical Gardens, where he raised $4,500. While there, the 1960 Canadian Marathon Champion, Gord Dickson, gave him his gold medal saying, “the young fellow was running the greatest race of all.”
On July 28, after reaching 4,153 kilometres and arriving in Gravenhurst, Terry would celebrate his 22nd birthday with 2,000 people at the civic centre. He was given a new artificial limb and the small community of 8,000 would raise $14,000.
On Aug. 4, or thereabouts, Terry would reach the halfway point of his journey.
On Aug. 12, near Sault Ste Marie, a spring would snap in Terry’s artificial limb. The local radio station would broadcast that the spring had broken . A welder in the community immediately got into his car and drove out to meet with Terry, fixing the spring within 90 minutes.
At Wawa, Ontario, Terry would reach not only 4,900 kilometres but also the Montreal River Hill, with many saying that the hill was Goliath and Terry was David. For that part of the run, Terry would wear a shirt that said “Montreal River Here I Come” on the front and “I’ve Got You Beat” on the back.
Terry would earn a well deserved day off when he reached Terrace Bay, Ontario and met Greg Scott. Scott had also lost his leg to bone cancer and he would ride his bike behind Terry for six miles. Terry would write, “It has to be the most inspirational moment I have had. At night, we had a beautiful reception in Terrace Bay. I spoke about Greg and couldn’t hold back the emotion.”
By this point, Terry had dealt with cysts on his stump, dizzy spells, shin splints and an inflamed knee but he continued on.
On Sept. 1, 1980, after 5,373 kilometres and 143 days, Terry made the emotional decision to end his run after an intense coughing fit and chest pains. He would run a few more kilometres as crowds lined the highway but he would ask Doug to drive him to the hospital.
The next day, Terry would hold a press conference announcing that the cancer had returned and spread into his lungs. Many people came forward offering to complete the run for him, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he asked them not to, saying he wanted to complete it himself.
By this point, Terry had moved from the realm of human interest story, to hero to national icon. By the time he was forced to end the run he had raised $1.7 million, or $5.45 million in today’s funds. Realizing that the nation would see the consequences of the disease, he hoped that would lead to more generosity. A week later, CTV would organize a national telethon to support Terry and the Canadian Cancer Society. In five hours, $10.5 million was raised, including $1 million from both the government of British Columbia and the government of Ontario. Those two donations would be used to create a new research institute in Terry’s name, and an endowment given to the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation.
Donations would continue to come in and by April, $23 million, roughly one dollar for every Canadian, had been raised. The Guinness Book of Records named him the top fundraiser.
Terry’s fame was at such a high level by the spring of 1981, people would send letters addressed to only Terry Fox, Canada, and those letters would still reach him.
In September of 1980, he would be honoured with the Order of Canada, the youngest person to every receive the honour. The Governor General flew out to British Columbia to present him with the honour personally. He was also given the Order of Dogwood, the highest honour in British Columbia.
The Canada Sports Hall of Fame established a permanent exhibit of Terry and he was named the nation’s top athlete, receiving the 1980 Lou Marsh Award. In addition, he was named the Newsmaker of the Year for 1980.
Throughout the winter and spring of 1980 and 1981, Terry would receive many chemotherapy treatments but the cancer continued to spread. Pope John Paul II would send a telegram saying he was praying for him, and experimental treatments were attempted. He would be admitted to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster on June 19, 1981 and fall into a coma a week later and would pass away at 4:35 a.m. on June 28, 1981.
In a move usually reserved for statesman, the Government of Canada ordered flags across the country to be lowered to half-mast. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau would say at the House of Commons, “it occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death. We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”
His funeral was broadcast across the country.
The first Terry Fox Run would be held on Sept. 13, 1981 with 300,000 people taking part and $3.5 million being raised. This run was organized by Sharp, who had always been a supporter of Terry. The runs have continued through schools and other organizations and since the first Terry Fox Run, $750 million has been raised for cancer research and it is the largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research in the world.
Since he passed, Terry’s legend has only grown in Canada. In 1999, a national survey was conducted and he was named the greatest hero in Canadian history. In 2004, he placed second behind Tommy Douglas to determine The Greatest Canadian.
Across Canada, Terry is honoured in many different ways, which I will list here and there are a lot.
- Over 30 roads and streets are named for him, including the Terry Fox Courage Highway near Thunder Bay.
- There are seven statues of Terry across the country, including a large one outside Thunder Bay near the spot where he ended his run.
- 14 schools are named for Terry, as well as 14 other buildings across the country.
- Nine fitness trails are also named for him, as well as 13 parks.
- Mount Terry Fox, which is in Mount Terry Fox Provincial Park, was named for him in 1981.
- In 1983, the Canadian Coast Guard named an icebreaker the CCGS Terry Fox.
- In 2012, he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
- In 1981, Canada Post bypassed its rules of only having stamps made for people ten years after their death when the commissioned one for Terry.
- Rod Stewart would write Never Give Up On A Dream for Terry and his 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours was dedicated to him, while also calling his 1981-1982 tour of Canada the Terry Fox Tour.
- In 1994, the Terry Fox Hall of Fame was created to honour those who make contributions that have improved the quality of life for disabled people.
- In 2005, the Royal Canadian Mint created a special dollar coin to honour Terry, the first time a regular circulation coin featured a Canadian.
- In 2008, Terry was named a National Person of Historic Significance, for which he was called an enduring icon.
- His mother, Betty, would be one of the eight people to carry the Olympic Flag into BC Place during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the Terry Fox Award was given to the athletes who embodied Terry’s characteristics of determination and humility in the face of adversity.
- Beginning in 2015, every first Monday in August would be known as Terry Fox Day.
- Terry Fox is also the front-runner to be on the new Canadian five dollar bill.
Possibly the greatest legacy of Terry is the fact that the survival rates for osteosarcoma have increased immensely. Most patients do not lose their limbs now and the cure rate is up to 80 per cent for younger patients and 70 per cent for older patients.
Information comes from TerryFox.Org, CBC, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, The Telegram, Canadian Ex Pat Network,