In 1977, 18-year-old Terry Fox was a student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Interested in athletics, he played basketball and soccer until he was struck by tragedy. Plagued by bone cancer, Terry Fox lost his right leg below mid-thigh in March, 1977.
Determined not to give up on life, he decided he was going to do something to help other victims of cancer. He persuaded the Canadian Cancer Society to sponsor him in an attempt to run across Canada.
Training was a difficult process, when he started he had difficulty completing a single lap on a track with his artifical leg. He did not give up, however, and after 1-1/2 years of training he had done 5,054 kilometers of practice runs and was ready for his challenge.
On April 12, 1980, he stepped into the Atlantic Ocean at St. John's Newfoundland, turned, and began his run across the country. Wearing a t-shirt with the words "Marathon of Hope," he ran westward an average of 26 miles a day. On good days he could cover a good 30 miles, at other times he could barley hobble along, but for the next 143 days the attention of Canada was focused upon him as he headed toward his final goal: stepping into the Pacific Ocean at Port Renfrew, British Columbia. Meanwhile, pledges came pouring in.
Everywhere he went, people lined the streets to cheer him on. Radio stations throughout Canada played the song "Run, Terry, Run." He asked each Canadian to pledge $1 for cancer research as he continued his trek to Port Renfrew, British Columbia, where his mission would be completed by stepping into the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately on September 1, 1980, with 5,342 kilometers of the journey behind him, he began coughing and wheezing just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario. He continued on to keep from disappointing the crowds awaiting him in town, but finally had to abort his run. The cancer, thought to be totally gone from his body, had spread into his lungs.
By this time, he had already raised $2,000,000 for cancer research. From his hospital bed he vowed to complete the run at some time in the future, if he could. Though he would not get the chance -- he died on June 28, 1981 -- the outpouring of sympathy after the diagnosis was announced raised the total contributions for cancer research to a whopping $24,000,000.
Terry Fox's legacy has been honored in a number of ways. Shortly before his death, the Canadian Government bent the rules (that a stamp could not portray a living person) and issued a postage stamp in his honor. He was also given The Order of Canada, Canada's highest honor, on September 19, 1980. The Terry Fox Memorial, located in Thunder Bay (where his run ended), stands as a permanant sysmbol of his work. Schools, roads, fitness trails, even a mountain have been named in honor of him.
In 1983 HBO produced its first made-for-TV movie, "The Terry Fox Story. Though HBO wanted Val Kilmer or Michael O'Keefe to play the role of Terry Fox, producer Robert Cooper chose unkown Eric Fryer to play the role. At the age of 18, Eric had lost his right leg to cancer. Ironically, Eric Fryer did not support Terry Fox's cause at the time of his run, he considered him to be nothing more than an attention-seeker. Though the movie won critical acclaim, it was later rejected by Terry Fox's family.
In the years that have passed, other people have completed runs similar to Fox's. On February 18, 1985, 22-year-old Jeff Keith (who lost his right leg to cancer as a child) completed a run across the United States. And on May 29, 1985, 19-year-old Steven Fonyo, who had also lost a leg to bone cancer, completed the cross-Canada route attempted by Fox. Fonyo's run was marred by controvery -- a worker from the Canadian Cancer Society quit due to his alleged "adolescent behavior," and his failure to take a detour in his run to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Terry Fox led many to speculate that he was more interested in fame than helping cancer victims. His run raised $7,000,000 for cancer research.
Money for cancer research continues to come in due to the legacy of Terry Fox. Annual Terry Fox Runs, held in September to symbolize picking up where he left off in his run, continue to raise millions of dollars for research. 16 years after his death, he continues to be a hero to cancer victims... and a hero of Canada.