Monday April 12, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Terry Fox
On this Day:
In 1980, Terry Fox began his “Marathon of Hope” at St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
Terrance Stanley Fox CC OD (July 28, 1958 – June 28, 1981) was a Canadian athlete, humanitarian, and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated due to cancer, he embarked on an east to west cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mi), and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over C$750 million has been raised in his name as of January 2018.
Fox was a distance runner and basketball player for his Port Coquitlam high school, now named after him, and Simon Fraser University. His right leg was amputated in 1977 after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, though he continued to run using an artificial leg. He also played wheelchair basketball in Vancouver, winning three national championships.
In 1980, he began the Marathon of Hope, a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research. He hoped to raise one dollar from each of Canada’s 24 million people. He began with little fanfare from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, in April and ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day. Fox had become a national star by the time he reached Ontario; he made numerous public appearances with businessmen, athletes, and politicians in his efforts to raise money. He was forced to end his run outside Thunder Bay when the cancer spread to his lungs. His hopes of overcoming the disease and completing his run ended when he died nine months later.
In addition to being the youngest person ever named a Companion of the Order of Canada, Fox won the 1980 Lou Marsh Award as the nation’s top sportsman and was named Canada’s Newsmaker of the Year in both 1980 and 1981. Considered a national hero, he has had many buildings, statues, roads, and parks named in his honour across the country.
Terry Fox was born on July 28, 1958, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Rolland and Betty Fox. Rolland was a switchman for the Canadian National Railway. Fox had an elder brother, Fred, a younger brother, Darrell, and a younger sister, Judith. Fox’s maternal grandmother is Métis and Fox’s younger brother Darrell has official Métis status.
His family moved to Surrey, British Columbia, in 1966, then settled in Port Coquitlam, in 1968. His parents were dedicated to their family, and his mother was especially protective of her children; it was through her that Fox developed his stubborn dedication to whatever task he committed to do. His father recalled that he was extremely competitive, noting that Fox hated to lose so much that he would continue at any activity until he succeeded.
He was an enthusiastic athlete, playing soccer, rugby and baseball as a child. His passion was for basketball and though he stood only five feet tall and was a poor player at the time, Fox sought to make his school team in grade eight. Bob McGill, Fox’s physical education teacher and basketball coach at Mary Hill Junior High School, felt he was better suited to be a distance runner and encouraged him to take up the sport. Fox had no desire for cross-country running, but took it up because he respected and wanted to please his coach. He was determined to continue playing basketball, even if he was the last substitute on the team. Fox played only one minute in his grade-eight season but dedicated his summers to improving his play. He became a regular player in grade nine and earned a starting position in grade ten. In grade 12, he won his high school’s athlete of the year award jointly with his best friend Doug Alward.
Though he was initially unsure whether he wanted to go to university, Fox’s mother convinced him to enrol at Simon Fraser University, where he studied kinesiology as a stepping stone to becoming a physical education teacher. He tried out for the junior varsity basketball team, earning a spot ahead of more talented players due to his determination.
On November 12, 1976, as Fox was driving to the family home at Morrill Street in Port Coquitlam, he became distracted by nearby bridge construction, and crashed into the back of a pickup truck. While his car was left undriveable, Fox emerged with only a sore right knee. He again felt pain in December, but chose to ignore it until the end of basketball season. By March 1977, the pain had intensified and he finally went to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that often starts near the knees. Fox believed his car accident weakened his knee and left it vulnerable to the disease, though his doctors argued there was no connection. He was told that his leg had to be amputated, he would require chemotherapy treatment, and that recent medical advances meant he had a 50-percent chance of survival. Fox learned that two years before, the figure would have been only 15 percent; the improvement in survival rates impressed on him the value of cancer research.
With the help of an artificial leg, Fox was walking three weeks after the amputation. He then progressed to playing golf with his father. Doctors were impressed with Fox’s positive outlook, stating it contributed to his rapid recovery. He endured sixteen months of chemotherapy and found the time he spent in the British Columbia Cancer Control Agency facility difficult as he watched fellow cancer patients suffer and die from the disease. Fox ended his treatment with a new purpose: he felt he owed his survival to medical advances and wished to live his life in a way that would help others find courage.
In the summer of 1977, Rick Hansen, working with the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association, invited Fox to try out for his wheelchair basketball team. Although he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments at the time, Fox’s energy impressed Hansen. Less than two months after learning how to play the sport, Fox was named a member of the team for the national championship in Edmonton. He won three national titles with the team, and was named an all-star by the North American Wheelchair Basketball Association in 1980.
The Marathon began on April 12, 1980, when Fox dipped his right leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, and filled two large bottles with ocean water. He intended to keep one as a souvenir and pour the other into the Pacific Ocean upon completing his journey at Victoria, British Columbia. Fox was supported on his run by Doug Alward, who drove the van and cooked meals.
Fox was met with gale-force winds, heavy rain and a snowstorm in the first days of his run. He was initially disappointed with the reception he received, but was heartened upon arriving in Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador, where the town’s 10,000 residents presented him with a donation of over $10,000. Throughout the trip, Fox frequently expressed his anger and frustration to those he saw as impeding the run, and he fought regularly with Alward. By the time they reached Nova Scotia, they were barely on speaking terms, and it was arranged for Fox’s brother Darrell, then 17, to join them as a buffer. Fox left the Maritimes on June 10 and faced new challenges upon entering Quebec due to his group’s inability to speak French and drivers who continually forced him off the road. Fox arrived in Montreal on June 22, one-third of the way through his 8,000-kilometre (5,000 mi) journey, having collected over $200,000 in donations. Around this time, Fox’s run caught the attention of Isadore Sharp who was the founder and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts – and who had lost a son to melanoma in 1978 just a year after Terry’s diagnosis. Sharp was intrigued by the story of a one-legged kid “trying to do the impossible” and run across the country; so he offered food and accommodation at his hotels en route. When Fox was discouraged because so few people were making donations, Sharp pledged $2 a mile [to the run] and persuaded close to 1,000 other corporations to do the same. Sharp’s encouragement persuaded Fox to continue with the Marathon of Hope. Convinced by the Canadian Cancer Society that arriving in Ottawa for Canada Day would aid fundraising efforts, he remained in Montreal for a few extra days.
Fox crossed into Ontario at the town of Hawkesbury on the last Saturday in June. He was met by a brass band and thousands of residents who lined the streets to cheer him on, while the Ontario Provincial Police gave him an escort throughout the province. Despite the sweltering heat of summer, he continued to run 26 miles (42 km) per day. On his arrival in Ottawa, Fox met Governor General Ed Schreyer and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and was the guest of honour at numerous sporting events in the city. In front of 16,000 fans, he performed a ceremonial kickoff at a Canadian Football League game and was given a standing ovation. Fox’s journal reflected his growing excitement at the reception he had received as he began to understand how deeply moved Canadians were by his efforts.
On July 11, a crowd of 10,000 people met Fox in Toronto, where he was honoured in Nathan Phillips Square. As he ran to the square, he was joined on the road by many people, including National Hockey League star Darryl Sittler, who presented Fox with his 1980 All-Star Game jersey. The Cancer Society estimated it collected $100,000 in donations that day alone. That evening he threw the ceremonial first pitch at Exhibition Stadium preceding a baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians. As he continued through southern Ontario, he was met by Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr who presented him with a cheque for $25,000. Fox considered meeting Orr the highlight of his journey.
Everybody seems to have given up hope of trying. I haven’t. It isn’t easy and it isn’t supposed to be, but I’m accomplishing something. How many people give up a lot to do something good. I’m sure we would have found a cure for cancer 20 years ago if we had really tried.
As Fox’s fame grew, the Cancer Society scheduled him to attend more functions and give more speeches. Fox attempted to accommodate any request that he believed would raise money, no matter how far out of his way it took him. He bristled, however, at what he felt were media intrusions into his personal life, for example when the Toronto Star reported that he had gone on a date. Fox was left unsure whom he could trust in the media after negative articles began to emerge, including one by The Globe and Mail that highlighted tensions with his brother Darrell and claimed he was running because he held a grudge against a doctor who had misdiagnosed his condition, allegations he referred to as “trash”.
The physical demands of running a marathon every day took their toll on Fox’s body. Apart from the rest days in Montreal taken at the request of the Cancer Society, he refused to take a day off, even on his 22nd birthday. He frequently suffered shin splints and an inflamed knee. He developed cysts on his stump and experienced dizzy spells. At one point, he suffered a soreness in his ankle that would not go away. Although he feared he had developed a stress fracture, he ran for three more days before seeking medical attention, and was then relieved to learn it was tendonitis and could be treated with painkillers. Fox rejected calls for him to seek regular medical checkups, and dismissed suggestions he was risking his future health.
In spite of his immense recuperative capacity, Fox found that by late August he was exhausted before he began his day’s run. On September 1, outside Thunder Bay, he was forced to stop briefly after he suffered an intense coughing fit and experienced pains in his chest. Unsure what to do, he resumed running as the crowds along the highway shouted out their encouragement. A few miles later, short of breath and with continued chest pain, he asked Alward to drive him to a hospital. He feared immediately that he had run his last kilometre. The next day, Fox held a tearful press conference during which he announced that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He was forced to end his run after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mi). Fox refused offers to complete the run in his stead, stating that he wanted to complete his marathon himself.
Fox had raised $1.7 million (equivalent to $5 million in 2018) by the time he was forced to abandon the Marathon. He realized that the nation was about to see the consequences of the disease, and hoped that this might lead to greater generosity. A week after his run ended, the CTV Television Network organized a nationwide telethon in support of Fox and the Canadian Cancer Society. Supported by Canadian and international celebrities, the five-hour event raised $10.5 million (equivalent to $32 million in 2018).Among the donations were $1 million each by the governments of British Columbia and Ontario, the former to create a new research institute to be founded in Fox’s name, and the latter an endowment given to the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation. Donations continued throughout the winter, and by the following April, over $23 million had been raised (equivalent to $62 million in 2018).
Supporters and well wishers from around the world inundated Fox with letters and tokens of support. At one point, he was receiving more mail than the rest of Port Coquitlam combined. Such was his fame that one letter addressed simply to “Terry Fox, Canada” was successfully delivered.
In September 1980, he was invested in a special ceremony as a Companion of the Order of Canada; he was the youngest person to be so honoured. The Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia named him to the Order of the Dogwood, the province’s highest award. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame commissioned a permanent exhibit, and Fox was named the winner of the Lou Marsh Award for 1980 as the nation’s top athlete. He was named Canada’s 1980 Newsmaker of the Year. The Ottawa Citizen described the national response to his marathon as “one of the most powerful outpourings of emotion and generosity in Canada’s history”.
In the following months, Fox received multiple chemotherapy treatments, but the disease continued to spread. As his condition worsened, Canadians hoped for a miracle and Pope John Paul II sent a telegram saying that he was praying for Fox. Doctors turned to experimental interferon treatments, though their effectiveness against osteogenic sarcoma was unknown. He suffered an adverse reaction to his first treatment, but continued the program after a period of rest.
Fox was readmitted to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster on June 19, 1981, with chest congestion and pneumonia. He fell into a coma and died at 4:35 a.m. PDT on June 28, 1981, a month before his 23rd birthday with his family by his side. The Government of Canada ordered flags across the country lowered to half mast, an unprecedented honour that was usually reserved for statesmen. Addressing the House of Commons, Trudeau said, “It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death … We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity”.
Fox remains a prominent figure in Canadian folklore. His determination united the nation; people from all walks of life lent their support to his run and his memory inspires pride in all regions of the country. A 1999 national survey named him as Canada’s greatest hero, and he finished second to Tommy Douglas in the 2004 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program The Greatest Canadian. Fox’s heroic status has been attributed to his image as an ordinary person attempting a remarkable and inspirational feat. Others have argued that Fox’s greatness derives from his audacious vision, his determined pursuit of his goal, his ability to overcome challenges such as his lack of experience and the very loneliness of his venture. As Fox’s advocate on The Greatest Canadian, media personality Sook-Yin Lee compared him to a classic hero, Phidippides, the runner who delivered the news of the Battle of Marathon before dying, and asserted that Fox “embodies the most cherished Canadian values: compassion, commitment, perseverance”. She highlighted the juxtaposition between his celebrity, brought about by the unforgettable image he created, and his rejection of the trappings of that celebrity. Typically amongst Canadian icons, Fox is an unconventional hero, admired but not without flaws. An obituary in the Canadian Family Physician emphasized his humanity and noted that his anger – at his diagnosis, at press misrepresentations and at those he saw as encroaching on his independence – spoke against ascribing sainthood for Fox, and thus placed his achievements within the reach of all (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
“Anything is possible if you try” – Terry Fox
Second, a Song:
The Proclaimers are a Scottish rock duo formed in 1983 by twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, who were born on 5 March 1962. They came to attention with their 1987 single “Letter from America”, which reached No. 3 in the United Kingdom, and the 1988 single “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, which topped charts in Australia, Iceland and New Zealand. The Proclaimers have sold over 5 million albums worldwide.
First active from 1983 as an acoustic duo, the Proclaimers moved toward band-oriented rock in later works. The Proclaimers’ style draws from a diversity of influences, including country, folk, and punk rock. Their playing range has included roots rock, alternative rock and folk rock, and their music is typified by their Scottish accents. The Proclaimers often tour internationally, and have released 11 studio albums since 1987, the most recent being 2018’s Angry Cyclist, as well as three compilation albums and a DVD.
“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” is a song written and performed by Scottish duo The Proclaimers, and first released as the lead single from their 1988 album Sunshine on Leith. The song reached number 11 in the UK Singles Chart on its initial release and has since become their most popular song worldwide. It was a number 1 hit in Iceland, then number 1 in Australia and New Zealand in early 1990.
In 1993, following its appearance in the American film Benny & Joon, the song was released in North America and many other countries around the world. It reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in August 1993, as well as number 8 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and number 25 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart; it also reached number 4 in Canada. In 2007, the Proclaimers re-recorded the song with English comedians Peter Kay and Matt Lucas for the UK’s Comic Relief charity telethon, scoring a number one hit in the UK and outperforming their original UK chart run.
“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” has become a live staple at the Proclaimers’ concerts. The duo played it at Edinburgh 50,000 – The Final Push at Murrayfield Stadium on 6 July 2005, the final concert of Live 8, to symbolise the conclusion of “The Long Walk to Justice” (per Wikipedia).
Here is a mashup of the Proclaimers performing “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” to video clips of Terry Fox on his Marathon of Hope. I hope you enjoy this.
Thought for the Day:
“I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.” – Terry Fox
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky