April 21st, 2024

Remembering Terry Fox 40 years after his passing


By Herald on June 25, 2021.

Terry Fox high-fives students as they finished their school Terry Fox run at Nicholas Sheran in 2016. The Lethbridge man is remembering his namesake nephew on the anniversary of his passing. Herald file photo by Tijana Martin

Al Beeber – Lethbridge Herald

On June 28, 1981 cancer claimed the life of a Canadian hero, a man whose legacy is still felt to this day.

Terry Fox was a month shy of his 23rd birthday when he died in New Westminster B.C. days after being re-admitted to hospital.

Fox was a talented athlete playing various sports in his youth but life changed in his first year of university when he developed pain in his right knee, waking up one morning to discover he couldn’t stand. A week later Fox learned he had a malignant tumour but his chances of survival were between 50 and 70 per cent.

The night before his right leg was amputated he read an article in a running magazine about amputee Dick Traum who ran the New York City Marathon, and Fox was inspired to do one across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

His Marathon of Hope started April 12, 1980 when he dipped his artificial right leg into the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland where he began his quest to cross the country on foot one marathon at a time.

On Sept. 1, 1980, near Thunder Bay in Northwestern Ontario, Fox’s journey came to a sudden end. After chest pains and a coughing fit he was taken to hospital and the next day, Fox announced his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs.

During the Marathon of Hope that lasted 143 days, Fox ran 5,373 kilometres. By Feb. 1, 1981, the Marathon of Hope had raised $24.17 million, reaching Fox’s goal of a dollar for each Canadian.

The first Terry Fox Run in 1981 raised $3.5 million with more than 300,000 Canadians running or walking in his honour.

In the ensuing decades, Terry Fox runs have become an annual tradition in Canada with more than $750 million being raised.

For Fox’s uncle Terry Fox, 82, of Lethbridge, June 28 will be a special day.

The brother of Terry’s dad Rolland, the Winnipeg native has fond memories of his namesake nephew whose family moved to B.C. in the 1960s.

Lethbridge’s Terry Fox has spoken at countless schools over the years, visiting as many as 14 in one month, telling students about his nephew, the Marathon of Hope and the research funding that has been raised by the runs.

Fox is a two-time cancer survivor and credits his nephew’s work with paying for the research that has saved his life.

“I used to babysit him, eh. If I said ‘Terry, you can’t do this or you can’t do that’ oh boy, he’d get his back up. People would call him stubborn but I’d call it determination,” Fox said this week.

“He was always a determined boy. He tried to be anything and everything. When he told them what he was going to do and run across Canada, his mother (Betty) wanted him to run across B.C. She didn’t want him to run across Canada. B.C. was far enough, which I understand her being a mother and all. And he said ‘no mom, I’ve made up my mind and I’m running across Canada.’”

A salesman by career, Fox ended up in Lethbridge when he was offered a job working for Benjamin Moore Paints. He also did car sales at the old Beny Chev-Olds (now Murray’s) and worked at a paper company.

Fox said he never visited Terry during his actual marathon but talked to him a couple of times and was at the funeral.

Fox also delivered the eulogy at the funeral of his brother and Terry’s dad, Rolland who visited Lethbridge in September 2015 for the Terry Fox Run a year before he died.

“I bet there was 4,000 to 6,000 children from the schools that were there at his talk” at Henderson Lake, Fox said.

‘“Terry’s brother Fred came out the last time we had the run in Lethbridge,” he said.

“What he did was one of a kind,” Fox said of his nephew.

“Now of course there’s marathons for everything and it was him who set this up. That’s why I go to schools…I talk as much as I can. I believe in what he did.”

After beating prostate cancer which he had for 10 years, Fox was diagnosed with bladder cancer eight years ago and is scheduled to have his bladder examined again in early July.

“Hopefully they figure this will be the last time; it might be gone I’m hoping.”

At one school visit, a girl asked him about his cancer and “it just dawned on me, it was because of my nephew and people who donated their money that helped save my life! I’m here because my nephew saved my life with all the money put into research and everything.

“I talk about him as much as I can because I figure what he did was unbelievable.” He participated in every Terry Fox Run – 40 of them — until COVID forced cancellation of the one in 2021.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter

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