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Terry Fox and His Marathon of Hope

by David DeFord

Doctors informed 18-year-old Terry Fox of British Columbia that to survive his bone cancer they must amputate his right leg six inches above his knee. Imagine the loss. He must have struggled to make sense of his plight as he faced the operation that would change his life forever.

The night before surgery, his high school basketball coach brought him a running magazine which featured an amputee who had recently completed the New York City Marathon. The teenager, facing the impending loss of his right leg, began to dream of running across Canada.

During his sixteen months of post-surgery treatment and therapy Fox witnessed terrible suffering. He saw children with little chances for living to maturity. He saw so much pain, suffering, and fear that at the end of his own treatment he felt the burden of responsibility—as a survivor Terry felt obligated to help end the suffering.

Fox started a running program two years after his operation. He trained for fifteen months—running everyday but Christmas—until he could run 23 miles a day.

In those years he developed a vision of raising money for cancer research by running across Canada—east to west. Terry wanted to call attention to the tragedy of the disease and raise $22,000,000 ($1 per Canadian.) That’s quite a lofty goal for a 22-year-old.

In seeking sponsorships, Fox wrote of his end of treatment, “I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist even though I would be set free of mine…. Somewhere, the hurting must stop… and I was determined to take myself to the limit for those causes.”

On April 12, 1980 Terry Fox, the young cancer survivor and amputee, began his journey in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He called it the Marathon of Hope. He ran nearly twenty-six miles a day with his unique step-step-hop gait.

Though he began his run across Canada with little notice, word spread quickly of his determination and sacrifice. Soon cheering crowds lined both sides of the road as he entered towns. The press followed him—providing daily updates to a nation filled with pride and wonder. And the money began to pour in. Fund raisers sprang up throughout Canada in support of the Marathon of Hope.

Four and a half months and 3,339 miles into his journey, Terry was forced to stop because cancer had appeared in his lungs. He knew for a few days that he had developed a problem, but his grit carried him past the pain.

“I don’t feel that his is unfair,” Fox said from his hospital bed. “That’s the thing about cancer. I’m not the only one, it happens all the time to people. I’m not special. This just intensifies what I did. It gives it more meaning. It’ll inspire more people. I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try.”

Fox passed away less than ten months later. His loss stunned and saddened Canada.

That month the first annual Terry Fox Run raised $3.5 million. The CTV television network held a special telethon 48 hours after his death—they raised more than $10 million dollars.

The teenager who began with a vision of raising $22,000,000 is now responsible for over $400,000,000 raised for cancer research.

In June of 1999 Terry Fox was voted “Canada’s Greatest Hero” in a nation survey.

I have run in the Terry Fox Run a few times, but I never realized the magnitude of courage, determination and vision of this young man.

Rather than summarize my feelings of how we can apply Fox’s experience to our own, I thought it best to let the young man do the honors himself.

“I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try.”

“I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.”

“I got satisfaction out of doing things that were difficult. It was an incredible feeling. The pain was there, but the pain didn’t matter.”

“How many people do something they really believe in?”

Related Quotes

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity. Billy Graham

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes. Washington Irving

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. Jackie Robinson

Believe in something larger than yourself… Get involved in the big ideas of your time. Barbara Bush

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