In late June and early July of 1980, me and three of my classmates from Sir Winston Churchill High School were in Ottawa, as we represented Quebec during that year’s Reach for the Top National Playoffs.
Besides taping the games at the CBC studios there, our team and the nine other “Reach” provincial representative teams spent that week touring around the nation’s capitol and the surrounding regions, not to mention attending a number of VIP receptions. One of those receptions took place at Rideau Hall, as we had a private audience with then-Governor General Ed Schreyer in its majestic Tent Room. After all the pomp, ceremony and protocol was done with, refreshments were served. As I was glancing at the portraits of the past Governors-General that graced the walls of the Tent Room, I noticed a small commotion going on at the entrance of the room. There was a scrum of TV cameras, lights and boom microphones that quickly made its way along the crowd of people who were already there from the reception.
Wondering what the fuss was all about, I inched my way through this scrum and realized what the excitement was all about. Terry Fox was there, as he took a brief break from his Marathon of Hope to say hello to the GG. He met up with some of the “Reach” participants for a quick chat in front of the cameras, made a quick speech, and left Rideau Hall to a loud round of applause. Scott, one of my teammates, was one of the lucky ones who had that brief audience with Terry. He told me that Terry talked to them about his run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research, as well as raise more awareness about this dreaded disease; he told them that he hoped to complete the marathon in his native B.C. sometime in November.
For 143 days in the spring and summer of 1980, Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope in aid of the efforts towards a cure for cancer, created a sense of excitement across Canada and amongst Canadians that hadn’t been experienced since the country celebrated its centennial 13 years earlier. His mission was simple: to run from Newfoundland to B.C. covering the distance of a typical marathon race every day and raise the equivalent of $1 for every Canadian (with a population of about 24 million people in 1980) so that cancer could be beaten.
Although the cancer that cost him a leg returned to his lungs, which forced him to abruptly stop his Marathon of Hope in Thunder Bay, Ontario exactly 40 years ago this month, Terry Fox is still revered by Canadians and the legacy he created still lives on. Terry Fox Runs take place across Canada and around the world every September, and raise millions of dollars for new innovations and treatments that will lead to that cure for cancer.
Darrell Fox, Terry’s younger brother who accompanied him throughout the entire duration of the Marathon of Hope, is the keeper of the flame that is the Terry Fox legacy. To mark the 40th anniversary of this simple, yet monumental event in Canadian history, he has put together a special book that is quite the fitting tribute called Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters, in which author proceeds will directly benefit the Terry Fox Foundation.
The book is a collection of 40 letters written by 40 Canadians who either met Terry, witnessed the marathon in 1980, or were profoundly inspired or motivated by what Terry Fox accomplished during those 143 days, which was done against many odds, whether it be logistically, physically or emotionally.
The list of contributors for this book is quite impressive, ranging from celebrities, athletes, journalists, friends, or average Canadians who were inspired by Terry to make a difference in the world in their own right. The stories are simple, well told, inspirational and shows what the power of a very superhuman act by one person can have on the rest of humanity.
For example, there’s hockey legend Bobby Orr, whom upon meeting Terry in Toronto, compared respectively his much operated upon knee and his prosthetic leg; Margaret Atwood was so inspired by Terry, that he became the basis of a saintly character in her futuristic novel The Year of the Flood; rower and Olympic medalist Silken Laumann used Terry’s example of courage when she recovered from a serious injury to her leg that happened just 10 weeks prior to competing in the 1992 Summer Olympics; Edmonton junior high school teacher Darrin Park retells his successful battle with an aggressive brain tumour that led him to become the organizer of the Edmonton Terry Fox Run; and there’s retired Ontario Provincial Police officer Mary Hardisty, who escorted Terry and his small entourage during a brief portion of his run in Ontario, and proved to be such a strong example when she was at her son Raymond’s side when he successfully battle leukemia (and is currently a tireless fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network).
Add to that an impressive collection of rare, candid, never before seen photos (taken before, during and after the Marathon of Hope), and you have a book that is a wonderful tribute to the courage, bravery and endurance of a 22-year-old from B.C. named Terry Fox who simply wanted to run across his home and native land in order to transform cancer from a deadly scourge to a disease that can be treatable and conquered. And thanks to Forever Terry, we can proudly say that the Marathon of Hope was –and still is– not just a brief, shining moment for Canada and the Canadian people.
As Darrell Fox writes as a wonderful salute to his brother Terry: “The Marathon (of Hope) was the ride I never wanted to get off. Watching my brother change the world was irreplaceable.”