Sunday, 15 September 2013

Terry Fox: Unbelievable courage

Terry Fox during his 1980 Marathon of Hope
There is no more Canadian a hero than Terry Fox. He began life as an ordinary man who would do some extraordinary things. A man so profoundly affected by the way he saw cancer ravage children when he was in hospital with them, that he vowed to make a difference. So, after he lost his own leg to cancer, he used his remaining leg, and a rudimentary prosthetic, to run across Canada. He had to run a marathon a day – on one leg. That's about 26 miles a day – on one leg. His goal was to raise one dollar for every Canadian to fight cancer. To date, more than $600 million has been raised.

What he showed the nation, and the world, was unbelievable courage.

Off in the distance
I was 10 years old when Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope on April 12, 1980. There was no major fanfare or launch. In fact, it was not until months later that commercials started to appear on TV. I can still recall that tune: "Run Terry Run…Through the rain and the sun, run Terry run".

We even joked about it on the playground. We were playing touch football and Doug, one of my classmates, broke a long run. One of his teammates yelled, "Run Dougie Run!"

Later, I was watching a show called "Real People", an NBC TV series which featured the lives of everyday people. Host Sarah Purcell profiled Terry Fox, and I recall her actually running with him. I remember being so impressed that a Canadian story was on "Real People".

As Terry Fox made his way across Canada, we saw him on TV more and more. He was at the NHL all-star game, and kicking off a CFL game. He was in the news more and more.

We also talked about him in current events during Mr. Sorge's Grade 6 social studies class.

Yet Terry Fox was still far off in the distance.

Terry Fox receives his Order of Canada
The end
It happened when I came home from school. I had just started junior high, and it was on TV. Terry Fox had to stop his Marathon of Hope outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. It really didn't register with me. I saw the tearful news conference, with him lying on the stretcher at the opening of the back of an ambulance. I honestly believed he would be back on the road eventually, and finish.

There was sporadic news coverage after that. I remember Terry Fox being awarded the Order of Canada, and seeing him sitting in a suit, the order around his neck, and smiling.

Then one day, again I came home from school, and discovered Terry Fox had died. Even then, I just could not believe it. I just assumed, in my 10-year-old brain, that he would finish.

I do recall, vaguely, the national telethon put together for Terry Fox. After that, sadly, he disappeared off my radar. I was becoming a teenager, and so many other things became important.

The "Terry Fox Story" aired on CTV in late 1983 or early 1984, and I recall staying up late to watch it. Eric Fryer, an actual amputee, played Terry Fox and for the first time I saw what kind of person Terry Fox was. Fryer portrayed the anger, rage, short temper, and single-mindedness that made Terry Fox more than a hero – it made him a human. And that made him an even bigger inspiration to me. Chris Makepeace, a talented young Canadian actor, played Terry's brother Darrell Fox, and Robert Duvall played Bill Vigars, a publicist with the Canadian Cancer Society. Both real-life characters are still heavily involved in the Terry Fox Foundation. As I watched, I wondered how they would end the movie. It brought many tears when the movie ended with an empty track, the one Terry Fox had trained on for his Marathon of Hope.

The movie did receive some criticism from Terry Fox's family for portraying him as ill-tempered. Like I said, that humanized him and would make me admire him more.

The movie won six Genie Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars, including best picture, best actor for Eric Fryer, and best supporting actor for Michael Zelniker, who played Terry Fox's best friend Doug Alward.

Later, there were two events that brought Terry Fox to mind. The first was in 1985 when Steve Fonyo, another one-legged runner, completed Terry's journey. I recall watching on TV when he arrived at the Pacific Ocean, dipping his foot in it and dumping in some water he had taken from the Atlantic Ocean when he started his run.

The second was when Rick Hansen brought his "Man in Motion" tour to Canada. He did come through Coaldale, and I was there to greet him. His journey had conjured up memories of Terry Fox.

Parting thoughts
It is with the benefit of age and perspective that I admire Terry Fox. I really was too young at the time to comprehend what he was doing. I think it is safe to say no one could comprehend the effect Terry Fox would have on this country over the next 30-plus years. As I have grown older, and can truly understand Terry Fox's accomplishments and his legacy, I have done my best to honour his memory through my work at the newspaper.

Through everything, I keep coming back to the same thought: Terry Fox had unbelievable courage, absolutely unbelievable. And we are all better for it.

1 comment:

  1. Terry was never ill-tempered. He was quick to anger in the same way he was quick to laugh. He laughed a lot. Called it the way he saw it. If you were being a dork, he'd call you on it... if made a great play (in sports), he'd be the first to commend you.

    One of the few people I actually miss from our high school days. Honest, open and a heart the size of the mountain that bears his name.

    They broke the mould that made that man. Rest in peace, mate.