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Terry Fox and The Marathon of Hope

One thing everyone who met Terrence Stanley “Terry” Fox would come to learn is that he was competitive. It’s a trait that Terry cultivated while growing up and playing his favorite sport, basketball. Always the smallest guy on the court, Terry decided his 5 ft. stature wouldn’t be the thing to keep him down. When his coach told him “if you want something, you work for it, because I’m not interested in mediocrity”, Terry listened and got to work. Every morning of his Grade 9 year, he would run to the gym to play basketball before school started. There were days he felt sick with the flu or a cold, but he would go anyways. His coach, Bob McGill, fondly remembers his dogged determination saying “If I had told Terry to hit his head against the wall, he would have.”

Terry is on the far right next to his brothers and sister.
Terry on his basketball team sitting front row second from the right.

Terry believed the key to his success was mental toughness. He had learned it during all the the long hours playing one on one. He had learned it playing rugby and being run over and over again by bigger guys. He had learned it stubbornly debating who the best player in the NHL was at the dinner table, arguing until his brother or father would simply give up; either due to exhaustion or intimidation.

It’s this stubborn upbringing that he would need to call upon when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that often starts near the knees, when he was just 18. Doctors informed him that his leg would have to be amputated, he would need to begin chemotherapy, and he had a 50 percent survival rate. Terry would later remember learning that just two years earlier that the figure would have been only 15%. It was a revealing statistic for the importance of cancer research. A seed had been planted.

Serendipitously, the night before his cancer surgery, Terry had read an article about Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon. It never left his mind and after becoming frustrated with how little money was dedicated to cancer research, and saddened during his 16 months of chemotherapy as he watched fellow cancer patients suffer and die, he began to devise his plan to run the entire length of Canada in an effort to increase cancer awareness.

Richard "Dick" Traum's, the first amputee to to complete the New York Marathon was a large inpsiration for Terry.

First came the 14-month training program he developed to prove he was serious and able. It was grueling. His natural gait was significantly altered due to his artificial leg and it needing extra time for the springs to reset after each step. He got bone bruises and blisters and suffered through intense pain due to the additional pressure he had to put on both his good leg and what was left of his amputated leg. Despite the challenges, he ran over 5,000 km’s (3,107 miles) for training, and after a last place finish in a 17 mile road race, he felt ready to publicly reveal his plan to run across country. His goal was to raise 24 million dollars, $1 dollar for every Canadian citizen. Writing to the Canadian Cancer Society in hopes that they would lend support he stated:

“I’m not a dreamer, 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.”

Somehow skeptical of his dedication, the Cancer Society agreed to support Fox only if he acquired sponsors and passed a medical examination by a heart specialist proving he was fit to run (Adidas would provide his running shoes). The examination revealed that Terry had an enlarged heart. Doctors warned Fox of the potential risks but he shrugged them off and received official endorsement when he promised he would stop immediately if he experienced any heart problems.

Adidas was one of the first sponsors to step up gifting him a pair of Orion's, originally released in 1979.
Terry showing off his prosthetic leg and new shoes to Bobby Orr, a personal highlight of the Marathon for him.
Adidas would later do a limited release of Terry Fox branded replica shoes dubbed the Orion TF. Via

The Marathon for Hope, as it became known, began on April 12, 1980 with Terry filling two large water bottles with the Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland. One a souvenir, the other to pour into Pacific Ocean to mark the completion of his journey. Originally frustrated by the lack of support as he ran through Newfoundland and Quebec, sometimes even being forced off the road by other cars, his fortunes began to change as he entered Ontario where he was welcomed by the town of Hawkesbury with a brass band, a police escort, and thousands of residents who lined the streets to cheer him on. Shows of support helped him continue to run and gain momentum. After being largely ignored and threatened throughout the start of his journey, he was met by 10,000 people in Toronto and raised an estimated $100,000 on that day alone.

Before gaining more awareness and appreciatian (along with police escorts) Terry would have to run on some busy streets, with some motorists trying to run him off the road.
Eventually, Terry's message gained support. Here he is getting a hero's welcome in Scarborough, Ontario.
Doug Alward, Terry, and Darrell Fox near White River, Ontario. Doug, Terry's childhood friend, drove the van throughout the spring and summer, waking every morning at 4:30 a.m. to return Terry to where he had stopped the day before.

As the mission wore on, the demands of running nearly a marathon every day (a normal routine was get out of the van at 5AM, run 12 miles, eat breakfast, do speaking engagements, and then run another 8 miles) began to take a toll on his body. He frequently suffered a myriad of injuries like shin splints, an inflamed knee, and cysts on his amputated leg. Despite these and other ailments, he refused regular medical checkups. However, by September, nearly 6 months after he began, he was forced to stop briefly after he suffered an intense coughing fit. After attempting to run through it and squeezing out a few more miles, he had to be driven to the hospital. The next day, Terry gave a tearful press conference where he announced that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He would have to end his marathon early.

After 143 days and two-thirds of the way across Canada, he had raised $1.7 million. It was well short of his target but his fellow Canadians took the torch and ran with it. CTV held a telethon in his name that raised $10 million. Provinces and people across the nation continued to give as well. By February 1, 1981, Terry’s hope of raising $1 from every Canadian had been realized; the national population reached 24.1 million and the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope fund totaled 24.17 million.

Terry became a national icon. He was the youngest person awarded the Order of Canada, received the highest award from the province of British Columbia, Canada’s sports hall of fame ordered a permanent exhibit, he was named the nations top athlete, and Newsmaker of the Year.

Running through the pain.

In the following months Terry continued to fight his cancer, receiving multiple chemotherapy treatments, however, the disease continued to spread and he died in June of 1981. The government ordered flags across Canada be lowered to half mast and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, an icon himself, said of Terry:

“It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death ... We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”
His legend continues through the The Terry Fox Run and The Terry Fox Foundation.

Terry’s legacy lives on not only as folklore but also in the Terry Fox Run, an annual fundraising run that is still going today and has become the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research. As of January 2018, over $750 million dollars has been raised in Terry’s name. It’s probably safe to assume that this money is at least partly responsible for survival rates of osteosarcoma increasing significantly since Fox’s death, hovering somewhere around 70-80%, but there is still more work to be done.

In honor of Terry and The Marathon of Hope we created an online only longsleeve t-shirt with 100% of profits going to the Terry Fox Foundation, a charity maintaining the vision and principles of Terry Fox while raising money for cancer research. Now available below.

Shop LS Marathon Tee