Terry Fox, Boy Hero

35 years on and the Marathon of Hope continues

By Jason Santerre

In 1977, Terry Fox was 18 years old and living with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer known to attack the young. Osteosarcoma invades the area where bones meet, like the end of Terry’s right femur at the top of his knee. In the late 1970s, doctors had little choice other than amputation.

It was during his recovery in the children’s ward that Terry witnessed what kind of suffering cancer brings, especially to the young and their families. It was from his hospital bed that the obstinate, rambunctious kid from Port Coquitlam decided to embark on what he would dub his Marathon of Hope, an ambitious run across Canada. The hope was to raise one dollar for every Canadian citizen.

In the summer of 1980, Terry’s older brother by 14 months had a front row seat to what unfolded. Fred, now 58, says he’ll never forget the day Terry left for Newfoundland to begin the cross-Canada trek. “I didn’t really understand it nor did I know what to expect,” says Fred from his west coast office at the Terry Fox Foundation. “But to see the early news reports and feel the build-up as he gained momentum, it was surreal,” he says.

It’s been 35 years, but if you close your eyes a moment surely you can picture the curly haired kid hobbling down the highway with ferocious determination on his face. After 5,373 kilometres of burning asphalt, bug bites and blisters, Terry was forced to shut down his run outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. He returned to his home in B.C. to get treatment for the cancer that had spread to his lungs. “I’m gonna do my very best,” he said during a media scrum while lying on a hospital gurney. “I’ll fight. I promise I won’t give up.”

His body is gone, of course, but Terry’s spirit lives on, and it’s that spirit that inspires so many people around the world to participate in the annual Terry Fox Run—in 30 countries so far. And since 1980, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $700 million for cancer research.

Fred now works at the Foundation as a liaison, and he says he’s so proud that his brother’s legacy lives on, fondly recalling the rise of his brother’s iconic status. “I remember joining Terry in Toronto. We ran together along University Avenue. I get goosebumps just thinking about that day. The streets were packed with cheering masses as we ran toward city hall. There were over 10,000 people waiting to hear him speak.” Fred says that Terry appreciated meeting the likes of Bobby Orr and Pierre Trudeau, but he most enjoyed meeting regular folks. “So many people saw Terry as a hero and they still do, but he was and always will be my kid brother. I like to remember us as kids, always with a baseball glove or a hockey stick in hand. We’d pick blueberries to make money to buy blue jeans. Simple kid stuff like that, that’s what I remember most about Terry.”

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