Picking up where Terry stopped

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It was Sept. 1, 1980 and Terry Fox was just outside of Thunder Bay when he was forced to stop his Marathon of Hope because of incessant coughing and an intense pain in his chest.


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His decision came reluctantly.

The 22-year-old had started his run across Canada in mid-April near St. John’s, Newfoundland at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and had taken the Marathon of Hope across the Maritimes, into Quebec, and then into Ontario.

Fox was an unknown, someone who had come out of obscurity, but who was determined to raise money for cancer research.

The talented athlete had lost part his right leg in 1977 to osteosarcoma. He had been told with chemotherapy treatment he had a 50 per cent chance of survival. He was also told his chances would have been 15 per cent only two years earlier.

Fox was impressed with those improved odds, and even more impressed with the remarkable impact of cancer research. He eventually resolved to raise money for research by embarking on an improbable quest – he, who had lost part of his leg, would run across Canada.

Initially, there were few cheerleaders for Terry Fox. His Marathon of Hope was almost unknown until it reached Ontario in June, and by that time crowds of Canadians stood at the sides of the road to offer their encouragement. By mid-summer, he had become a national story, a picture of tenacious ambition draped in the humility that is always the cloak worn by real heroes.

When Fox was forced to stop on Labour Day, 143 days after his quest had been launched, he had covered 5,373 kilometres but was not yet halfway to his destination. He died in June 1981, and within months Canadians picked up where he left off, organizing the first Terry Fox Run.

The Terry Fox phenomenon has since spread across the planet, embracing 60 countries and millions of participants. The foundation named for him has raised over $750 million for cancer research. The 38th annual Marathon of Hope will be held Sept. 15.

The immense courage he showed when he started the Marathon of Hope on a cold April day in Newfoundland has become legendary, but Fox was always the reluctant hero.

“I’m not a dreamer,” he once said, “and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.”

So do we, Terry.

– Peter Epp

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