On Sept. 1, 1980, amputee Terry Fox was forced to stop his 5,000-mile run across Canada for cancer research after it was discovered that his bone cancer had spread to his lungs. He died 10 months later, but not before realizing his dream of raising one dollar for every person in Canada.
The Marathon of Hope
In March 1977, 18-year-old Terry Fox, a freshman cross-country runner at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, was hospitalized for a severe pain in his right knee. He was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and several days later his right leg was amputated six inches above his knee.
Before the operation, his high school basketball coach showed him an article about an amputee who ran the New York City Marathon. After being fitted with an artificial limb, Fox began training for long-distance races. But as he saw the conditions in cancer wards, he became determined to do more.
He came up with an idea to raise money for cancer research by running across Canada, with the goal of raising $1 million. He sent a letter to the Canadian Cancer Society in October 1979 to ask for funding.
“As I went through the 16 months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, I was rudely awakened by the feelings that surrounded and coursed through the cancer clinic,” he wrote. “There were faces with the brave smiles, and the ones who had given up smiling. There were feelings of hopeful denial, and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine.”
Fox received some funding and supplies from the CCS and other sponsors. He traveled with his friend Doug Alward to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost point, to begin the “Marathon of Hope.” On April 12, 1980, Fox dipped his leg in the Atlantic Ocean and began his run toward Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast.
The Marathon of Hope began with little fanfare. Running about a marathon each day with Alward following in a camper van, Fox collected money from people along the road as he wound through the Maritime provinces.
“He ran with a kind of hop and a skip with his prosthetic leg … through rain, snow and hailstones during the early weeks, then endured the sizzling afternoon sun of June and July,” wrote Time. “Some Canadians said they felt a little squeamish at the newspaper and television pictures of his occasionally bloody stump and his face contorted in pain.”
Word of his trek gradually grew, and he was greeted with a welcoming party when he reached Ontario on June 30. A few days later, in Ottawa, he was honored at a CFL game and greeted by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
He became a national celebrity and a song, “Run, Terry, Run,” was written about him. In Toronto, 10,000 people welcomed him, including Maple Leafs legend Darryl Sittler, who gave Fox his All-Star jersey. The success prompted Fox to raise his fundraising goal from $1 million $24 million, representing one dollar from each of Canada’s 24 million residents.
“The media orgy had infused the Marathon of Hope in a golden glow, as though Fox was being borne cross-country on the shoulders of adoring Canadians,” writes Ken MacQueen, who followed Fox for several days. “Not true. By northern Ontario, the run had reverted to form: mile after mile through brutal heat, ground out in Fox’s awkward, painful cadence.”
Fox’s health began to deteriorate as he passed the halfway mark of his run. On Sept. 1, after running 18 miles from Thunder Bay, Ontario, he asked to go to the hospital for a pain in his chest. Doctors discovered that the cancer had spread from his leg to his lungs.
As he was wheeled out of the hospital, he told reporters, “Now the cancer is in my lung and I have to go home … I'll do everything I can. I'm gonna do my very best. I'll fight. I promise I won't give up.”
Fox had run 3,339 miles in 143 days, about 23.3 miles a day. He raised more than $11 million raised for cancer research.
The CBC features 18 radio and television clips from the Marathon of Hope.
YouTube hosts a ESPN feature on Fox.
The Death of Terry Fox
Sources in this Story
- CBC: Terry Fox's legacy of hope
- The Terry Fox Foundation: Terry Fox & the Terry Fox Foundation
- Maclean’s: The relentless Terry Fox
- Time: The $2 Million Man
- Time: People: Jun. 10, 1985
Two days after Fox was forced to end his journey, the CTV network held a telethon that raised $10 million. In February 1981, donations hit $24.17 million, reaching Fox’s goal of $1 per Canadian.
Fox died June 28, 1981, at the age of 22. “There was nation-wide mourning. Flags were flown at half-mast. But people didn't forget him and his story didn't end with his death,” writes the Terry Fox Foundation. “The first Terry Fox Run was held that September—more than 300,000 people walked or ran or cycled in his memory and raised $3.5 million.”
His mother, Betty Fox, spoke of her son’s death in a 2005 interview for Maclean’s magazine. “It was supposed to happen,” she said. “I believe he was supposed to get cancer. And do this run for cancer research. He wasn’t meant to … to live.”
The Terry Fox Run, held annually every September in Canada, has raised more than $400 million for cancer research. Other Terry Fox Runs are held in more than 50 countries.
Related Topic: Steve Fonyo
In 1984, 18-year-old Steve Fonyo, who lost a leg to bone cancer, began his own run across Canada, called the “journey for lives.” He completed the 4,924-mile run in 14 months and raised nearly $10 million.
“I cried at night and I cried in the day,” he said. “But I didn't give up. Don't you give up. All you've got to do is keep going, keep plugging away.”