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  • Volume Eight, Number Seven: October 2003

    The Spirit of Terry Fox

    John Hughes

    By the time this issue hits the streets the 23rd annual Terry Fox Run will have taken place. Every September, usually the second Sunday after Labour Day, thousands of people worldwide line up to participate in the run to raise money for cancer research.

    The first run, completed in 1981, generated $3.5 million for the cause. Since that initial run more than $300 million has been raised through the combined efforts of people in more than 20 countries around the world. What began as a Canadian tradition has become global.

    On the home front, the Canadian portion of the run has been kept going largely by the Terry Fox Foundation as well as dedicated students and teachers in the public school system. Just ask any group of Canadian children how many of them participate in the Terry Fox Run every September and most of them will say that they not only run but can give a good account of what Terry did for cancer research and people suffering with the disease.  

    Just four years removed from an operation that amputated a cancerous leg, Terry Fox began the Marathon of Hope on April 12th, 1980 at St. John’s Newfoundland with the goal of running to Vancouver. He ran 42 km every day for the next 143 days. Terry’s hope was to raise $1 from each of the 23 million people in Canada, but the financial goal was only a part of the reason he attempted his valiant run.

    The idea that so many people were sick with an incurable disease was unbearable to him. To be diagnosed with terminal cancer, for Terry, was to be without a reason to endure the painful stages of death that the disease inflicts. The Marathon of Hope lived up to its name as it not only raised money for research, but also gave hope to those with cancer that they could recover and live purposeful lives.  

    Terry ran as far as Thunder Bay but had been in great pain for a few days before arriving there. What he had been feeling turned out to be the return of the cancer that cost him his leg. This time it attacked his lungs and would too soon claim his life. The announcement that Terry was sick again came on September 1, 1980, and the man who was perhaps Canada’s greatest athlete would run no more.

    Ten months later Terry Fox was dead. The goal of raising $23 million was exceeded by $1 million and this mark was accomplished even though he died trying to complete the run. It was also done without corporate sponsorship. Terry was perhaps unique in that regard. With a soldierly determination to do what he believed in even if it killed him and to do so without any corporate logos emblazoned on his jersey, the man showed it was possible to transcend the profit motive of modern-day sports. 

    Terry Fox’s determination and perseverance have provided an example that today’s school children very much look up to. There are other athletes who these same children admire more but for different reasons.

    The talents and insanely lucrative contracts of present day professional athletes that get so much press definitely make these kids stop and take notice. At the same time, the idea of playing your chosen sport because you believe that you might be able to benefit others from it gets nowhere near the ink that Terry was able to prove it deserves. There will never be another like Terry Fox but the sporting code of honour that he lived and died by is one that is in need of immediate revival.


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