Where were you in 1980? Perhaps, like me, you were a young wife and mother. Or maybe like my daughter, you weren’t even born yet. Maybe you were a 21-year-old university student. Maybe you were battling cancer.
What were you doing in 1980 or last year for that matter? I can say unequivocally that nothing I did that year or since comes close to the project Terry Fox undertook on April 12th.
Is it possible twenty-five years have passed since this young man began the unthinkable — running across Canada to raise money for cancer. Has any other human being run the equivalent of a marathon every day for five months, much less someone who’s lost a leg to cancer?
Can you imagine anyone in 2005 doing this the way Terry did it? He prided himself on doing it without endorsing any companies. In the early days, he did it without publicity, volunteers, police escorts, security people or much media attention. He did it with humility, fierce determination, unbelievable courage and integrity. He ran though the pain because of the suffering of other cancer patients. He did it with no-frills Adidas running shoes.
What he didn’t have was an entourage, a convoy of hangers-on, space-age athletic shoes or prosthesis, corporate logos/sponsorship, a cent of payment, nor the comforts of an air-conditioned bus. Does anyone remember Steven Fonyo? He was another cancer survivor who attempted to complete what Terry started. His unsuccessful attempt was fraught with scandal and bad press. He was no Terry Fox.
I suspect Terry would be pumped to know that since his Marathon of Hope, annual Terry Fox runs in over 50 countries have raised over $400 million dollars in his name for cancer research. He’d be humbled to know that countless books have been written about him, including Douglas Coupland’s Terry for this twenty-fifth anniversary. This year, the Canadian Mint issued a one dollar commemorative coin with Terry’s likeness on it. Adidas has just issued a special limited edition men’s running shoe like the 1980 model that Terry wore during his run. Across from Parliament Hill in Ottawa stands the Terry Fox memorial statue. Schools across the country have been named after this altruistic and genuine hero.
In a recent TV movie, Shawn Ashmore’s portrayal of Terry was at once both endearing and irreverent. It gave a new appreciation for the primitive conditions under which Terry did the miraculous. Watching him sniff his shirts (for one that didn’t reek) as he dressed for one of the countless public appearances was hilarious. The porta-potty was another glimpse into the real-life, gritty details that were part of this journey. His compassionate treatment of other survivors, speaking, signing autographs, and contacting media were all tacked onto days that began pre-dawn.
In these days of shallow, one-dimensional, it’s-all-about-me celebrities, Terry continues to be an icon. Wisdom, hope, determination, and strength of character — Terry had it all, from where I sit.
Coupland, D. (2005). Terry: Terry Fox and His Marathon of Hope. Douglas & McIntyre.