In the fall of 1979, 21-year-old Terry Fox began his quest to run across
Canada. He had lost most of his right leg to cancer two years before. Fox
sent letters to various companies soliciting their sponsorship. The final
sentence of his letter was: "…I'm not saying that this will initiate any
kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I
With that dogged spirit, Fox would begin his dream --- one that would take him
half way across Canada and touch hundreds of thousands of lives at home and
Terrance Stanley Fox was born July 28, 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Rolly and
Betty Fox. He already had an older brother, Fred. Another brother, Darrell,
would be born four years later and sister Judith in 1964. In 1966, the family
moved to Surrey, B.C. and then to their last destination, Port Coquitlam, two
Fox's parents remember him as a determined little boy who never liked to miss
a day of school. Fox blossomed into an athlete during junior high school, the
same time he met his friend Doug Alward. The boys played baseball, rugby and
basketball. By grade 12, Fox and Alward would share the Athlete of the Year
Award. Fox graduated from Port Coquitlam High School with distinction.
Fox wanted to be a physical education teacher and enrolled in Simon Fraser
University (SFU) in Vancouver. There, he tried out for the SFU basketball
team. Player Mike McNeill said Fox outshone players who were more talented
because he showed more drive.
Discovery of cancer
Terry Fox's bright future turned a corner in March 1977. He came home
complaining of a searing pain in his right knee after running around the
track. His mother took him to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New
Westminster. X-rays confirmed he had osteogenic sarcoma, a cancerous tumour
that makes the bone go soft. With his family at his side, doctors gave him
the news. As his family wept, Fox said: "I'm not ready to leave this
To stop the spread of cancer, doctors amputated his leg - six inches (15 cm)
above the knee. Fox learned how to use an artificial leg, and three weeks
after surgery, he was walking. Soon after, he played pitch-and-putt golf
with his dad. Always a competitor, Fox kept raising the bar. He said he
felt fortunate to have beaten cancer. What he didn't know at the time, was
that stray sarcoma cells often end up in the lungs and don't show up on scans
for some time.
In July 1977, Fox joined the basketball team of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports
Association, and met Rick Hansen, who ran the program. Hansen was impressed by
Fox's energy, not knowing at the time that he was undergoing chemotherapy.
Fox would go on to play in three national championship victories with the
Fox never forgot an article he read the night before his surgery. It was a
feature about amputee Dick Traum, who had run the New York City Marathon. At
the start of 1979, he devised a training schedule. His prosthetist developed a
better running leg using a pogo stick with a motorcycle shock absorber. Even
with an improved artificial leg, his stump would be covered in cysts and
bleeding sores after every run. In August, his friend Doug Alward, also a
runner, took him to a marathon in Prince George. Fox finished last, 10 minutes
behind the last two-legged runner. The other runners watched him, crying and
clapping as he crossed the finish line.
The Marathon of Hope begins
That fall, Terry Fox hatched a plan to raise money for cancer research by
running across Canada. His goal: $1 for every Canadian. Betty called it a
crazy idea but knew her son could not be stopped. The Canadian Cancer Society
said they would help him but only if he had corporate sponsors. Fox sent out
letters describing his dream. Ford donated a camper van, Adidas provided the
shoes, Imperial Oil the gas and Safeway, food vouchers and cash. Fox's plan
was to start in St. John's, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980 and to finish on
the west coast of Vancouver Island on September 10. With more than 3,000
miles (5,000 km) of running under his belt, he was ready.
On the morning of April 12, as a cold mist hugged St. John's, Fox dipped his
artificial leg in the Atlantic and began his Marathon of Hope. As Fox reached
the outskirts of the city, Mayor Dorothy Wyatt decided to join him, outfitted
in a polka-dot pantsuit and her robes of office. Doug Alward would drive the
van one mile (1.6 km) ahead and stop to wait for Fox, giving him some water
when he passed by.
The people of Newfoundland were welcoming and generous. Fox and Alward were
treated to many meals at people's homes. The town of Port aux Basques, with a
population of 10,000, raised $10,000. Unfortunately, Alward and Fox started
to fight and sometimes, spent a day without talking. Fox wanted Alward to set
up media interviews; however, Alward was reluctant.
In early May, Fox arrived in Nova Scotia and few people greeted him. In one
harrowing incident, a freight truck hit a CBC vehicle with a film crew inside,
forcing it off the road. Fox was just running ahead of the truck. One of the
crew fell out of the truck and was seriously injured.
Around the middle of May, Fox and Alward were not getting along. Fox called
his parents, who flew out to Halifax. Betty said it was better to yell at each
other than to stop talking altogether. It helped a lot. In his May 29 diary
entry, Fox referred to a speech he made in Dartmouth: "I couldn't help but
cry when I said how Doug had to have courage to put up with and understand me
when I'm tired and irritable."
At the end of May, Darrell joined his big brother in Saint John, New
Brunswick. He was a prankster and helped to lighten up the mood of the
Marathon of Hope. Around June 7, Fox would hit his all-time high of 30
miles (48 km) a day.
Breakdown in Quebec
Crossing into Quebec on June 10, Fox was charmed by the pretty little towns
along the St. Lawrence. But none of the boys could speak French. They had
no idea how to ask for a shower and went five days without a wash. In
mid-June, as he neared Quebec City, Fox hit bottom. Drivers ignored him,
speeding past. In his journal entry, he would vent: "… people are continually
forcing me off the road. I was actually honked off once … It is wearisome.
Mental Breakdown." Things improved considerably when he arrived in Montreal.
The boys stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel courtesy of company president
Isadore Sharp, who had lost his teenage son to cancer. The boys relished the
luxury; Fox took an hour-long shower. On June 23, after 73 days of running,
Fox would have his first day off. The Ontario wing of the Cancer Society told
him to hold off on his entry into Ontario; they were preparing big
On the last Saturday in June, Fox entered Ontario at the town of Hawkesbury on
the Ottawa River. It would be the start of a fundraising avalanche. The town
held a welcoming party with a brass band and thousands of balloons. In early
July, he arrived in Ottawa. He met Governor General Ed Schreyer. He enjoyed a
standing ovation from fans at the CFL game between Ottawa and Saskatchewan,
kicking the opening ball. On July 4, Fox had a date with then-Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau. Unfortunately, no one had prepped Trudeau, who was just back
from an Italian trip; the meeting was awkward. Fox asked him to run a ½ mile
(0.8 km) with him, but Trudeau declined.
As Fox headed to Toronto, momentum soared. A singer had crafted a song --
"Run, Terry, Run" -- and donated all proceeds to cancer research. Crowds lined
the streets and roadways. NBC's "Real People" TV program did a piece on
him. At a mall in Oshawa, girls screamed as he walked past. As Fox ran towards
Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, he was joined by Darryl Sittler, the former
Toronto Maple Leaf hockey captain. A crowd of 10,000 was waiting. Actor Al
Waxman introduced Fox and Sittler presented him with his 1980 all-star NHL
sweater: "I've been around athletes a long time and I've never seen any
with his courage and stamina." The Cancer Society estimated it collected
$100,000 that day.
Fox made his way through southern Ontario hitting Oakville, Hamilton, London,
Kitchener and Guelph. Despite the 38-degree temperature, he kept to his 26
mile (42 km) a day pace. During his southern Ontario stretch, he was kissed
by British actress Maggie Smith at Stratford; a musician gave him his $500
guitar; and Bobby Orr presented him with $25,000 from Planter's Peanuts. Fox
said the Orr meeting was the highlight of his trip.
Fox celebrated his 22nd birthday on July 28 in Gravenhurst, two hours drive
north of Toronto. After his brother Darrell presented him with a cake, Fox
started throwing handfuls of it at him and began a food fight. The people of
Gravenhurst (pop. 8,000) raised $14,000.
Darkness on the horizon
As Fox headed towards Georgian Bay, his health changed. He would wake up
tired, sometimes asking for time alone in the van just to cry. In Parry Sound,
Bobby Orr's father gave him his son's Canada Cup sweater. He passed the
half-way point of his journey just before Sudbury. By August 12, Fox had
raised $11.4 million.
On August 31, before running into Thunder Bay, Fox said he felt as if he'd
caught a cold. The next day, he started to cough more and felt pains in his
chest and neck but he kept running because people were out cheering him on.
Eighteen miles out of the city, he stopped. Fox went to a hospital, and after
examination, doctors told him that the cancer had invaded his lungs. His
parents came out to Thunder Bay the next day. Fox, holding his mother Betty's
hand, held a news conference and told reporters he had to go home. He had
run 3,339 miles (5,376 km).
"How many people do something they really believe in?" said Fox at the news
conference. "I just wish people would realize that anything's possible if
you try. Dreams are made if people try."
Fox flew back to B.C. and to the Royal Columbian Hospital, where his cancer
fight has started in 1977. Darryl Sittler and the Maple Leafs offered to
finish the run for him, butFox declined. He wanted to finish it himself.
He wore his Marathon of Hope t-shirt for the first few weeks in hospital. The
tumours had spread; one was the size of his fist. He had a 10 per cent chance
of beating the cancer. The country rallied. A fundraiser was broadcast with
such celebrities as John Denver, Elton John and Anne Murray. This broadcast
put another $10.5 million into the Fox Fund. All over the country, people
raised money through walk-a-thons, stitch-a-thons - even Ontario strippers
donated a day's proceeds.
As he endured chemotherapy, Fox would be given many honours. Governor General
Ed Schreyer flew to B.C. to make him the youngest Companion of the Order of
Canada. B.C. Premier Bill Bennett also granted him the province's highest
honour: the Order of the Dogwood. Canada's sports editors gave him the Lou
Marsh trophy for outstanding athletic achievement. Fox also appeared in
educational films for the Cancer Society.
By the new year, Fox's health worsened. The tumours had spread to his
abdomen. Thousands of letters and telegrams from Canada and around the world
flowed in to his hospital room. By February 1981, Fox had raised $24.17
million, equaling Canada's population of 24.1 million at the time.
Looking back at his run, Fox would reflect: "People thought I was going
through hell. Maybe I was partly, but still I was doing what I wanted and a
dream was coming true."
Terry Fox died, with his family beside him, on June 28, 1981. That September,
the first Terry Fox Run was held in Canada and around the world. More than
300,000 people participated, raising $3.5 million. Terry Fox Runs are held
yearly in 60 countries now and more than 360 million have been raised for
cancer research. His legacy lives on.