Canadian Terry Fox Attempted a Cross Country Run for Cancer.
September 1, 1980 – It was a dull day in Northern Ontario when Terry Fox ran his last miles.
He had started out strong that morning and felt confident. The road was lined with people shouting, “Don’t give up, you can make it!” words that spurred him and lifted his spirits. But after 18 miles he started coughing and felt a pain in his chest.
Terry knew how to cope with pain. He’d run through it as he always had before; he’d simply keep going until the pain went away.
For 3,339 miles, from St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada’s eastern most city on the shore of the Atlantic, he’d run through six provinces and now was two-thirds of the way home. He’d run close to a marathon a day, for 143 days. No mean achievement for an able-bodied runner, an extraordinary feat for an amputee.
Terry’s left leg was strong and muscular. His right was a mere stump fitted with an artificial limb made of fibreglass and steel. He’d lost the leg to cancer when he was 18.
He was 22 now; curly haired, good-looking, sunburned. He was strong, wilful and stubborn. His run, the Marathon of Hope, as he called it, a quixotic adventure across Canada that defied logic and common sense, was his way of repaying a debt.
Terry believed that he had won his fight against cancer, and he wanted to raise money, $1 million perhaps, to fight the disease. There was a second, possibly more important purpose to his marathon; a man is not less because he has lost a leg, indeed, he may be more. Certainly, he showed there were no limits to what an amputee could do.
He changed people’s attitude towards the disabled, and he showed that while cancer had claimed his leg, his spirit was unbreakable. His Marathon of Hope had started as an improbable dream – two friends, one to drive the van, one to run, a ribbon of highway, and the sturdy belief that they could perform a miracle.
He ran through ice storms and summer heat, against bitter winds of such velocity he couldn’t move, through fishing villages and Canada’s biggest cities. Though he shunned the notion himself, people were calling him a hero. He still saw himself as simple little Terry Fox, from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, average in everything but determination.
But here, 18 miles from Thunder Bay, at the head of Lake Superior, the coughing had stopped, but the dull, blunt pain had not. Neither running nor resting could make it go away. He saw the people lined up the hill ahead of him. The Ontario Provincial Police cruiser was behind him, red lights flashing in the drizzle, and cheers still surrounded him: “You can make it all the way!”
Terry could not ignore what people said to him. He listened. “I started to think about those comments. I thought this might be my last mile.” He ran until there were no more people, and then he climbed wearily into the van and asked his friend and driver Doug Alward to drive him to a hospital.
Doctors in Thunder Bay confirmed that cancer had spread from his legs to his lungs. He phoned his parents who caught the first plane to Thunder Bay. Terry was so weak when he tried to walk across the street to a car so they could get a bite to eat outside the hospital, he collapsed. “The day before I’d run 26 miles and now I couldn’t even walk across the street,” he said.