An athlete and cancer survivor from France is running across northwestern Ontario right now as part of a cross-Canada run in honour of his hero, Terry Fox.

On Friday, Guy Amalfitano broke down in tears as he arrived at the monument to Fox on Highway 11/17, near Thunder Bay, Ont.

"It's hugely emotional," he told CBC News, speaking in French. "I've been waiting for this moment for four years."

"I've seen photos of the memorial. I already thought it was magnificent, but when you're actually in front of it it's almost unbelievable."  

In 1980, at the age of 17, Amalfitano lost his right leg to the same cancer that Fox battled.

Hope from afar

Guy Amalfitano

Unlike his idol, Terry Fox, Guy Amalfitano runs on crutches rather than a prosthetic leg, because prostheses require a lot of energy to move and cause injuries to the stump, he said. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

He was in hospital undergoing chemotherapy when he turned on the TV and saw news coverage of the Marathon of Hope.

"It really gave me hope," he said.

"It was a really difficult time in my life when I was asking myself a lot of questions," he said.  "What will become of me?What am I going to do with just one leg?"

When he saw Fox on television, Amalfitano said he was inspired by the story of the 22-year-old Canadian. Fox lost a leg to cancer at 18 then committed himself to running across Canada on his artificial limb to raise money for cancer research. 

Years later, when Amalfitano decided it was his turn to make a contribution to cancer research, the story of Fox inspired him again, he said.

Guy Amalfitano

Guy Amalfitano's base on the road is this motor home. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"I wanted to do something spectacular to mobilize people so we could raise as much money as possible," he said.

Amalfitano completed two Marathons of Hope in France to raise money for cancer research, passing through each of the country's 52 regions.  

They were extraordinary experiences that changed his perspective, he said, and he owed it all to one person: Terry Fox.

"I wanted to do something to thank him," he added.

In a moment of reflection at the memorial, Amalfitano asked for Fox's permission to continue his journey, he said. 

The so-called Crossing of Hope, as he's calling his Canadian journey, was never intended as a fundraiser, he said, but people have been giving him money when they meet him along his way.

He plans to donate it all to the Canadian Cancer Society when he reaches Vancouver, he said.