Forty-two years ago, 21-year-old Terry Fox dipped his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic at St. John’s, Newfoundland. At 18, his right leg was amputated to halt aggressive bone cancer. It did nothing, however, to deter his ambitious dream to run across Canada raising funds for cancer research. He hoped to secure $24 million for the cause – a dollar from every Canadian. The plan was to complete the Marathon of Hope in his home province on the Pacific shores of Vancouver.
The cancer returned, spread to his lungs and took his life at 22. Terry didn’t complete his journey, but his spirit inspired generations to carry his torch. It’s now the largest world-wide, one-day cancer fundraiser. To date, nearly $1 billion has been raised for cancer research.
Terry’s journey had a quiet start and took time to become newsworthy: This was decades before smartphones, the web, social media and instant access. His best friend Doug Alward, and brother Darrell, followed Terry in the now iconic, cramped, 1980 Ford Econoline Van of Hope. It served as a home-on-wheels offering sleeping quarters, food, shelter, and refuge from rain, snow and pain. Fortunately, the van was rescued from obscurity. After falling into the hands of several different owners, including a touring heavy metal band who racked up an additional 350,000 kilometres (km), it was restored by Ford to its original state and given to the Fox family.
Terry ran a remarkable marathon-a-day for 143 days on what resembled a First World War prosthetic. The rigid device forced an awkward gate, raw skin, blisters and blood. Terry said the first 20 minutes were the worst until he adjusted to the pain.
If Terry was diagnosed with the same bone cancer today, the prognosis wouldn’t be as grim. Thanks to research funded by the Terry Fox Foundation, chances are he’d have avoided amputation and lived a long and healthy life.
Olds residents have supported the Terry Fox run since it began. We’ve ran, walked, cycled, bladed, and cheered through heat, rain, snow, and adjusted for pandemics. The 1996 event is memorable -- the Terry Fox Run Sunday coincided with an early winter start. Even cold, snowpack and near white-out conditions, weren’t enough to stop the Fox faithful.
This year’s event on Sunday, Sept. 18, is again organized by the dedicated folks at the Olds Fire Department with Mike Lipiec taking the lead. Registration opens at 10 a.m. The run starts at 11 a.m. with a five-km and 10-km course that start and finish at the fire hall. It’s always well-marked, and volunteers will cheer you on and help keep you safe.
Terry Fox and his foundation mean a lot to me. I will be running the 10-km route like I have for the last 30-plus years. Pledge forms are available online. I can print some off at the Albertan office if you prefer.
Hope to see you Sunday.
Murray Elliott is The Albertan's publisher.