He's laced up for 36 Terry Fox Runs, and at 81 he's ready for more

Alex Hillier, a Canadian Forces veteran from Boularderie, N.S., donned his combat boots for the first Terry Fox Run in 1981.

Alex Hillier donned combat boots for the first run in 1981, hasn't missed one since

Alex Hillier with his granddaughters, who joined him for last year's Terry Fox Run. (Neeta Kumar-Britten)

An 81-year-old Canadian Forces veteran who donned his combat boots to run the first Terry Fox Run in 1981, and has laced up for each one since, is vowing to keep going until he can't physically do it anymore.

Over the years, Alex Hillier of Boularderie, N.S., has battled through everything from a sprained ankle to last-minute travel plans to complete the charity event, which is held each year in hundreds of communities across the country.

He said he came close to missing the event only once. That was three years ago when his sister-in-law in Petawawa, Ont., fell ill, prompting Hillier and his wife to travel there just prior to the scheduled run.

However, when he learned the run was being held in a nearby community, he quickly arranged to go there and keep his streak intact.

Hillier vividly remembers the first Terry Fox Run in North Sydney, N.S., partly because of his choice of footwear — combat boots — which caused some second looks from people. He also recalls the level of participation.  

"There was quite a few people running in that one," he said, noting numbers have dwindled in recent years.

Hillier has run in the Terry Fox Run each year. (Neeta Kumar-Britten)

He recalls Fox's determination when he passed through the Sydney area in 1980. When he heard a charity run had been organized in his memory, Hillier said he instantly decided he would be part of it.

He continued to wear the combat boots in the event until 1986. "I kind of wore them out, and I got into the running shoes," he said.

On one occasion, when he was running in Baddeck, N.S., he was nearly prevented from finishing the 10 kilometres. Running on an uneven patch of ground he turned his ankle, but fought the pain until he completed the course. Later, he realized he had sprained it.

Neeta Kumar-Britten, one of the members of the local organizing committee for the Terry Fox Run, is a big fan of Hillier's.

"I was really excited and touched to hear about his history in the run," she said, adding that he told her he had "a soft spot for Terry Fox."

Those who remember the images of Fox and recall the sound of his prosthetic leg on the pavement can understand that reverence, said Kumar-Britten.

She said it's also a tribute to Hillier that two of his granddaughters travelled from New Brunswick and western Canada to be with him when he took part in last year's run.

This year, the Terry Fox Run will be held on Sunday, Sept. 17.

With files from Information Morning