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Terry Fox, age 22, on his Marathon of Hope across Canada. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images
> The Big Read
Margaret Atwood, Wayne Gretzky and Others Reflect on How Terry Fox Inspired Them
The 2020 Terry Fox Run takes place on Sunday, Sept. 20 — a virtual event in the wake of the pandemic. And earlier this month, the nation marked the 40th anniversary of the day Fox was forced to conclude his Marathon of Hope (Sept. 1) — an occasion that also brought the release of a new book, "Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters," an essay collection in which prominent Canadians reflect on the young man's legacy. The book even held a few surprises for Terry's younger brother Darrell Fox, including Wayne Gretzky's revelation that Terry and Rick Hansen beat him at a game of wheelchair basketball. / BY Kim Honey / August 25th, 2020
Every day, Darrell Fox opens the journal that travelled every mile of the Marathon of Hope and reads the corresponding entry handwritten 40 years ago by his brother, Terry Fox.
It began on April 12, 1980, in St. John’s, but the passage that gets him is from South Brook Junction, N.L., on April 27 – Day 15 and 542 kilometres into the run.
“Today we got up at 4:00 a.m. As usual, it was tough. If I died, I would die happy because I was doing what I wanted to do. How many people could say that? I want to set an example that will never be forgotten. It is courage and not foolishness. It isn’t a waste.”
Darrell wasn’t there that day because he didn’t join Terry and his best friend, Doug Alward, until May 31 in Saint John, N.B. Reading the words pains him, given Terry’s unwavering determination to run a marathon – 42 kilometres – every day on one leg and a fibreglass-and-steel prosthesis, from St. John’s to Vancouver, to raise money for cancer research. “It’s almost like he knew what was lying ahead,” Darrell says in a telephone interview from his home in Chilliwack, B.C., “that he may not finish the Marathon of Hope, that something else that was out of his control was going to happen to him.”
‘The Hurting Has to Stop’
Every cancer patient can relate. Even those who make it past the vaunted five-year all-clear mark wonder if malevolent cells lurk in their bodies and live in fear of their return. It’s hard to believe that on July 28, Terry Fox would have turned 62. Since his death on June 28, 1981, from bone cancer that had spread to his lungs, which powered him for 5,373 kilometres, the amputee with his distinctive double-hop gait has been immortalized as a Canadian hero for raising $24 million for cancer research – a dollar for every Canadian at the time – with his rallying cry: “Somewhere, the hurting has to stop.”
Since then, the annual Terry Fox Run has raised $800 million for cancer research, which includes funds raised in the 1980 Marathon of Hope. In 2019, the run brought in $25.3 million, second in Canada to The Ride to Conquer Cancer, which raised $39 million, according to Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Canada, an organization that supports nonprofits that rely on friends, family and colleagues to raise money.
The Terry Fox Run continues to draw 3.4 million participants annually 39 years after it was established, with the money going to the Terry Fox Research Institute, which disburses the funds to cancer researchers.
Terry Fox’s story is imprinted on the minds and muscles of every generation since the baby boomers, including kindergarten students, who learn about him when elementary schools plan their runs. But the Fox siblings – Fred, 63, Darrell, 58, and Judith, 55 – live it every day.
“It’s always within. It’s always so close,” says Darrell, who is on the research institute’s board of directors and serves as senior adviser. “It’s tough at times, and there’s always going to be emotion with it, but it’s always, first and foremost, a very positive experience.”
A Legacy in Letters
Now the Terry Fox Foundation, with Darrell aiding the effort, will publish Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters on Sept. 1, the date Terry stopped running. It’s a collection of essays from 43 Canadians reflecting on the curly-headed, freckle-faced, 22-year-old’s impact on the hearts and lives of Canadians.
There’s singer Tom Cochrane, recalling that day. He was ready to pack it in, tired of a life on the road with his band, Red Rider. They were driving from a gig in Winnipeg to Toronto when they were stopped in traffic outside Thunder Bay. A figure came into focus behind a police car driving ever so slowly with flashing lights. “It was a boy running with one leg,” Cochrane writes. “On that face were written a thousand stories, etched on it from every mile that he ran.” Terry’s courage gave him the inspiration to carry on. “I was blessed to be able to write songs and play music, to make people laugh, smile, dance and feel a little less alone in the world. I never looked back.”
There’s Margaret Atwood’s passage from The Year of the Flood, the second book in her MaddAddam trilogy, where the residents of a world altered by natural disaster are reminded of humanity’s good on Saint Terry’s Day.
“Saint Terry Fox … raced against Mortality, and in the end, outran his own Death, and lives on in Memory,” reads the excerpt.
There are Terry’s hockey heroes, Bobby Orr and Darryl Sittler; basketball star Steve Nash, who directed the 2010 documentary about Terry called Into the Wind; Paralympic track-and-field athlete Rick Hansen, a friend of Terry’s who taught him wheelchair basketball and went on to raise $26 million for spinal-cord injury research on his Man In Motion tour; and entries from singers Michael Bublé, Jann Arden and Rush’s Geddy Lee, whose music played in the van on the Marathon of Hope.
The stories – from cancer survivors and cancer researchers, friends and donors, runners that Darrell calls Terry Foxers and organizers he calls Terry’s team members – made the book team weep.
Wayne Gretzky vs. Terry Fox
Despite a life devoted to all things Terry Fox, there were still surprises. Darrell talks about Terry’s drive, evident at a young age when he decided to play basketball even though he was far from the best player on the team. Terry practised twice as hard as everyone else and was playing for Simon Fraser University in 1977 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and his leg was amputated above the knee. Hansen recruited him to play wheelchair basketball in Vancouver, which is how they met hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky.
In the book, Gretzky recalls he was playing for the Edmonton Oilers in 1979 when the team’s PR person asked him, Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe and Lee Fogolin to play in a charity game against Team Canada, which was stacked with Hansen and Terry. They demolished the Great One and his teammates.
“I didn’t know that Wayne Gretzky played wheelchair basketball with Terry and Rick,” says Darrell. “That was so cool. And they got blown away. They lost 44-4.”
Darrell was surprised and delighted to learn the photograph by Peter Martin on the cover of this magazine hangs in the entranceway to Sidney Crosby’s house, with the April 12 quote from Terry’s journal – “Today we got up at 4:00 a.m. As usual, it was tough” – underneath. “His words are a reminder that not every day is going to be great or easy, but your work ethic and commitment will get you through,” writes Crosby, the NHL MVP touted as the Next One.
To Darrell, what Terry accomplished mentally and physically was nothing short of a miracle. “How did he run a marathon with two tumours? The doctor who diagnosed Terry the second time couldn’t believe that he walked into the hospital, let alone ran 26 miles the day before. It defies logic.”
As he works his way through the journal, he can see Terry’s energy flag as the entries get shorter, the exclamation points disappear and the handwriting deteriorates into a scrawl.
Darrell knows when he turns to the last page on Sept. 1, the memories will come in a torrent. Driving the motorhome to the rest stop and finding no one there. Learning Terry asked Doug to take him to the hospital. Discovering Terry had a tumour the size of a lemon in one lung and one the size of a golf ball in the other. Terry telling reporters: “I’m going to do my very best. I’ll fight. I won’t give up” and “This happens all the time to other people. I’m not special.”
Terry Fox was the epitome of grit, able to dig deep and persevere against overwhelming odds to achieve his goals, whether it was raising $24 million or running that last mile. There are lessons we can take from Terry’s short life in a world grappling with a pandemic, on the brink of environmental catastrophe and hurting from racism’s deep wounds.
As we seek a new normal, we can reflect on our purpose in life, just as Terry did at 18, when he saw cancer patients losing their lives to the disease. “Cancer awakened him,” says Darrell. “That’s where his idea of giving back and helping others became his focus.”
When Terry Fox could not take another step, the nation picked up the mantle of altruism and carried it forward. Forty years later, we still run for him, perpetuating faith in humanity and ensuring the dream never dies.