Terry Fox
Terry Fox

Terry Fox on his Marathon of Hope run. After extensive training, he began his run at St John's on April 12, 1980 and ended it on September 1 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, after cancer was discovered in his lungs. (Canapress).

Terry Fox was the boy who never gave up. His short life was devoted to achieving his goals. Obstacles just made him try harder. When he learned he had cancer and would lose his leg, he resolved to do something to help other cancer victims. When the disease claimed him on June 28, 1981, he left a legacy of hope that has inspired millions to continue his cause.

Terry was born on July 28, 1958 in Winnipeg, the second of four children in an athletic family. An extraordinarily patient and persistent child, he loved long games. He spent many hours with the table-hockey game, devising long, complicated season schedules. Then he’d play for both teams, sticking with it long past the waning of his interest, because “he wanted to see who won.”

In grade eight, Terry wanted more than anything to play basketball. But he wasn’t a very good player. The coach tried to steer him toward other sports – wrestling or cross-country running. Terry trained to run, out of respect for the coach, but he didn’t give up his goal of playing basketball.

Through grit and determination, gutting it out when it got tough, Terry made the team. He ranked 19 out of 19 players and got one minute of game time all season. But he kept on, going to school early every morning to practice.

By grade nine he was among the 12 best on the team, the ones who got the most game time. In grade 10 he was a starting guard. By grade 12, he was a co-winner, with his friend Doug Alward, of the Athlete of the Year Award at his high school in Port Coquitlam, BC. Terry was also an excellent student, graduating with one B to mar a straight-A report card.

Terry continued playing basketball at Simon Fraser University. As an athlete, he was used to pain, but near the end of his first year he noticed a new pain in his right knee. He got up one morning to find he couldn’t stand. One week later, on March 9, 1977, he learned it was not a cartilage problem, as he’d thought, but a tumour. His leg had to be amputated above the knee.

The night before his amputation, reading about an amputee runner, he determined to conquer this new challenge so he’d never have to say that it disabled him. As he endured 16 months of chemotherapy, he took in the faces around him at the cancer clinic. He became determined to do more than help himself; he wanted to help find a cure for cancer. Never one to set easy goals, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

His cross-country run, the Marathon of Hope, began on April 12, 1980, when he dipped his artificial leg into the cold Atlantic off St. John’s, Nfld. Terry’s distinctive hop-skip run carried him through nearly 40 km per day. Along the way, as word of his cause spread, people lined the streets, applauding and urging him on. And giving money.

Terry was inspired by the crowds, toughing out the pain of sores and abrasions under his prosthesis, until September 1, 1980. After a strong start that morning from Thunder Bay, he began coughing and developed a pain in his chest. Neither resting nor running eased the pain. He kept going until there were no more people along the road, then climbed wearily into the van driven by his friend, Doug. The cancer had returned and was lodged in his lung.

After 143 days and 5,373 km, he returned to Port Coquitlam. He told a press conference: “I’m gonna do my very best. I’ll fight. I promise I won’t give up.” And for the next 10 months Terry fought as hard as he could against the disease ravaging his young body. He was honoured with awards: the Order of Canada; Newsmaker of the Year; the Lou Marsh trophy. The CTV network held a telethon that raised $10 million. Through it all, he refused the role of hero.

Terry died, with his family around him, one month before his twenty-third birthday. Across the nation, people mourned the loss of the determined young man with the amiable smile. And they remember him every year as they participate in the Terry Fox Run and contribute to The Terry Fox Foundation, which has raised over $300 million internationally for cancer research. Terry never gave up. His legacy of hope continues.

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Terry Fox and the 25th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope. Visit the Terry Fox Foundation for information on Sunday’s run. 

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About Laura Bonikowsky

Laura Neilson Bonikowsky has lived in and travelled across Canada, the United States and Europe. Her interests lie in a variety of topics, including history, science, technology and medicine.

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