Most Canadians see Terry Fox as symbolizing the very best of our country. At various times he has been voted the greatest sports hero, Canada’s greatest hero, the most popular Canadian, and the #2 Greatest Canadian (second to Tommy Douglas, who brought us Medicare). British Columbia and Ontario both have official Terry Fox Days. All this for someone who died 39 years ago, just shy of his 23rd birthday. I have written about his inspiring story before: Terry Fox, a shining example of one person’s ability to make a difference. If you don’t know his story, it’s worth a read; there’s a reason why he continues to inspire a nation.
After his astounding Marathon of Hope in 1980, crossing nearly half the country running a marathon a day – that’s every single day – on one good leg and one artificial leg to raise money for cancer research, Terry Fox was forced to stop by the recurrence of cancer, and tragically passed away in June 1981. The first annual Terry Fox Run was held just 3 months later, in September 1981. It was the beginning of what was to become an important annual Canadian tradition, in communities and schools across the country and in ex-pat communities around the world. A rite of fall, so to speak. And as a result, to date the Terry Fox Foundation has raised $800,000,000 for cancer research. $800 million.
This year marks the 40th year of annual Terry Fox Runs. I have participated in nearly all of them, as have many Canadians. In 1981 I was 35 and our kids were 7 and 10. Terry Fox had just completed his dramatic, courageous Marathon of Hope with unbelievable tenacity and had succumbed to cancer at age 22. He was an inspiration to us all. It was the first time I tried running; I think the introduction of the Terry Fox Run at that time inspired many to start running. And the Terry Fox Run is not about winners and losers – even less so than other popular runs. It’s 100% non-competitive. There is no clock ticking as you cross the finish line, no final results at all, just smiles. Just lineups to donate and buy this year’s Terry Fox t-shirt. And it’s not even just about running. You can walk, bike, skate board, or whatever else works for you. You can aim for 5K or 10K, or maybe 1K or 3K if that works better for you. It’s about setting a goal for yourself and getting out and accomplishing it. And putting a little of Terry’s spirit into your journey.
This year’s special 40th Run will be different by necessity. It needs to be virtual, thanks to COVID. It’s going to be more of a challenge to spread the Terry Fox spirit. It’s a milestone year for supporting and celebrating his legacy, and yet there can be no planned community festivities. But if there’s one overriding message that Terry Fox left us all, it’s that anything is possible if you try. So a virtual Terry Fox 40th Run it shall be. Mark your calendars; the date is four weeks from now, Sunday, September 20.
The theme for this year’s 40th Terry Fox Run is Try Like Terry. One Day. Your Way. You are encouraged to plan a safe route and set yourself a goal. It might be a 10K run or bike ride on a favourite section of trail while setting yourself a target pace. It could be a walk around the perimeter of your backyard a certain number of times, making sure that you’re staying safe. Or your plan could be something in between. It can be on your own, with family members, or with a team of participants practicing social distancing. Have fun with whatever goal you set for yourself.
As for my plans, last year I ran 5K, my last real run of any kind, and my brother two provinces away ran at the same time, both in memory of our Mom. This year I am planning a 5K course that will include some spurts of running (psst, don’t tell my body!). I think I might drive to a spot I used to run to when I was training for my marathons and run from there. Those were the good old days; I haven’t been that far on the trails for a few years now and I really miss those views.
If anyone’s spirit deserves our continuing celebration, it is Canada’s hero, Terry Fox. If any charity deserves our continuing support, it is the Terry Fox Foundation’s work to fund ground-breaking cancer research. I used to write the names of people I was running for on the back of my Terry Fox t-shirts, honouring friends and family who were survivors or victims of cancer. I ran out of room for all the names some time ago and I’m sure many of you could say the same thing. Cancer research has made impressive inroads into new treatments and cures for some forms of cancer, but many challenges remain. Cancer research needs our help.
You can find out more about this year’s virtual Terry Fox Run at their website: https://terryfox.org/run/ . I hope you will all consider registering and participating. And don’t forget to donate while you’re registering!