Kitchener-Waterloo

As Terry Fox Run goes virtual, local Wilmot organizers ponder how

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope. The annual Terry Fox Run held each September is going virtual this year because of COVID-19. Wilmot Terry Fox Run co-organizer Nigel Gordijk explains how he hopes to keep the community engaged in the run.

'We really hoped that we could be out there cheerleading for Terry,' co-organizer says

Nigel Gordijk and his wife Cheryl, who is a township councillor, co-organize the Wilmot Terry Fox Run in 2013. This year's run is going virtual because of COVID-19, which means the Gordijks will change the way they keep the community engaged. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope, and the annual runs held in his memory each fall across the country will look a little different this year.

Virtual runs will be organized for Sept. 20. Registration for this year's run opened on Wednesday.

Taking a run online is a challenge for local fund raisers like Nigel Gordijk, who co-organizes the event in Wilmot Township. 

"It's definitely going to be different … we're usually out there in the community whether it's working with local businesses or churches or other community groups to raise money – and not just raise money, but to talk about Terry and his legacy," Gordijk said.

He said this year there's a justification for not being able to be out running "and it's completely understandable."

"Because this is the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, we really hoped that we could be out there cheerleading for Terry," he said.

Gordijk, who co-organizes the run with his wife, township Coun. Cheryl Gordijk, hopes to keep the momentum going for the annual run. Last year's event in Wilmot raised more than $40,000, a new record for the community. That topped the 2018 record of more than $33,000.

Keep people engaged

Normally the Gordjiks plan a number of complementary events to go with the run, including concerts and CD sales. That can't happen this year, but Gordijk said he hopes to keep people involved through social media.

He has planned to highlight interviews with various people who knew Fox, either through the Marathon of Hope or family members, which will go on the Wilmot run's social media channels. 

Gordijk said there had been discussions to host a special event on July 20 to unveil a new plaque commemorating Fox, who ran through the township on July 20, 1980.

The ceremony to unveil the plaque remains up in the air and will likely need to be changed, Gordijk said.

He's not worried about a lack of interest in Terry Fox this year despite not having a large group event.

"I think the interest is going to take different forms," he said, noting the run has a positive message which seems to resonate with people right now. "There are opportunities for us, it's just a matter of us keeping that interest and no one getting social media fatigue..."

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in this undated photo. Fox ran through Wilmot Township on July 20, 1980. (Canadian Press)

'Cancer is not waiting'

On its website, the Terry Fox Foundation said the move to a virtual run was necessary.

"In these uncertain times, the one certainty we have is that cancer is not waiting for COVID-19 to be over," the website says.

It's expected the run will take place in 650 communities across the country.

As part of the kick-off for this year's virtual run, special T-shirts and Terry Fox replica sneakers from Adidas were marketed online. The sneakers sold out within minutes. Gordijk said he tried to get a pair but was not successful.

On the website, the foundation's interim executive director Ara Sahakian repeated something Fox said: "Anything is possible if you try."

Sahakian added, "In 2020, a year where we are all learning to live life differently, there is only one way forward for the Terry Fox Foundation: Terry's way. We have to try."

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