As It Happens

As it Happened: The Archive Edition - The Marathon Episode

Terry Fox was heartbroken when he had to cut short his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope. But of course, the end of the road was only the beginning.
Terry Fox continues his Marathon of Hope run across Canada, Sept. 1980. (Canadian Press)
He called it a marathon, yet it was — both literally and figuratively — so much more. It was the equivalent of a marathon a day, for nearly five months, through all kinds of weather. Not to mention that Terry Fox ran the entire distance having lost a leg to cancer. And even though he eventually had to abandon his Marathon of Hope, Fox started something that has become so much larger than he could have hoped when he first dipped his right foot in the Atlantic Ocean and set off down the road.

In December 1980 — just months after his run came to an abrupt end in Thunder Bay, ON, due to a return of his cancer — As it Happens host Barbara Frum spoke with Fox from his home in Port Coquitlam, BC. Here is some of that conversation.

Barbara Frum: Terry, how are things going for you?

Terry Fox: Not too bad. I'm feeling pretty good. Looking forward to Christmas.

"No matter what happens to me, things are gonna be OK. It doesn't matter whether the tumours have spread or not, because either way I'm gonna turn out a winner." - Terry Fox, after ending his Marathon of Hope

BF: How has your chemotherapy gone, Terry?

TF: Well, I've had six treatments so far, and right now nothing's changed from the last report that we had. The right tumour's shrunk and the one in my left lung hasn't really changed too much. 

BF: What's been keeping you going, Terry? 
Terry Fox receives the highest award for Canadians civilians, the Order of Canada, on Sept. 19, 1980. (Andy Clark/Canadian Press)

TF: I can't pinpoint one thing, because there's been so many things — things like the telethon, y'know. I'll never forget that night when I was watching it, the money that was raised off the telethon. Every day I got all kinds of mail, and I always read every letter that I get.  And the kinds of things that people say to encourage me and support me really helped me out psychologically, because I know there's so many people pulling for me. And that just makes it easier to go from day to day.

I also — I do have a belief in God, and no matter what happens to me, things are gonna be OK. It doesn't matter whether the tumours have spread or not, because either way I'm gonna turn out a winner. I'm either gonna go to heaven, or I'm gonna continue doing what I am right now. Things are just really positive right now. I'm working for the Cancer Society, and I'm feeling good. And I'm getting out and doing things and just being really active. And not dwelling on the fact that there is uncertainty, and I'm not sure about everything — and just thinking positive. That's the way you gotta take it. 

Nobody in Canada would want a united Canada more than me. And to hear from people that I've had a part in that, that makes me feel really good.- Terry Fox

BF: I realize that fighting cancer is your uppermost thought, but what you've done for this country's sense of itself, and what its people can be — I hope people have made that clear to you too.

TF: That's something I never ever dreamed of. I never ever planned to do that. And if there's a pro-Canadian, or someone who's a real proud Canadian, I am. Nobody in Canada would want a united Canada more than me. And to hear from people that I've had a part in that, that makes me feel really good.
Memorial to Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope along the Trans-Canada highway in Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Gary Hershorn/Canadian Press)

BF: Terry, the award for outstanding athlete of the year —

TF: People don't know how much that award meant to me. 

"I am an athlete. I have been all my life. And I don't think that was a question, because on my run across Canada I ran for five months in a row, 26 miles a day.- Terry Fox

BF: Well, I'd like you to talk about that, 'cause they're saying this guy's not just a cancer sufferer, he is an athlete...

TF: Yeah.

BF: ...which is what you were trying to say all along. 

TF: I am an athlete. I have been all my life. And I know there was — among a lot of sports writers and sports people in Canada — a lot of controversy [as to] whether they could classify me as an athlete or not. And I don't think that was a question, because on my run across Canada I ran for five months in a row, 26 miles a day. And you don't do that and not be an athlete. I think the question was whether I was the number one athlete in Canada or not — if what I did was the best athletic feat. And maybe it wasn't. There might have been a thousand people who had a better athletic feat than what I did. So for me, just the fact that they gave Canadian Athlete of the Year — and also I was voted third in the Male Athlete of the Year — the fact that some people did consider what I did an athletic feat, that really makes me feel good.

BF: Terry I'm glad that there's so much support for you, and that that's of some help to you. Because you deserve it.

TF: Thank you very much.

Participants in the 30th annual Terry Fox Run in Vancouver, B.C., in Sept. 2010. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

You can hear more of Barbara Frum's December 23, 1980 interview with Terry Fox — as well as the following stories, on this week's 'Marathon' episode of "As it Happened: The Archive Edition":

  • An emotional Bill Vigars — who travelled with Terry Fox for the last half of his run — speaks with As it Happens from Thunder Bay as Terry Fox announces the end of his Marathon of Hope
     
  • Catherine Dickson of PEI got on the wrong bus to participate in a fundraising walk — and wound up completing a full marathon by mistake
     
  • A 1986 interview with the organizer, timekeeper, and official of the second-annual Maggot Marathon in Sealey Lake, Montana
     
  • In trying to explain how to win a non-stop, eight-an-a-half hour laughathon, "Laughing" Linda Lutz was at a loss for words. But her response rang loud and clear

Related links:

Runner finishes marathon with the stranger who talked him out of jumping off a bridge

Canadian rocker headlines concert Saturday night, runs half-marathon the next morning

Online sleuth uses fitness tracker data to bust half-marathon cheater

Canadian ultra-marathoner still can't feel toes after gruelling Tennessee race

Sleep-deprived in fog: Canadian ultra-marathoner recalls 'critical error' at Barkley Marathons

Two buddies, one of them with multiple sclerosis, run the Boston Marathon

A man who completed the London Marathon in a snail suit

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