As It Happens

Canadians have kept Terry Fox's dream alive for 40 years, says his brother

When Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope and announced to the country that his cancer had returned, he told Canadians to continue where he left off. And his brother says that's exactly what happened.

'He'd be so happy and proud,' Fred Fox says ahead of 40th anniversary virtual run

Terry Fox started his Marathon of Hope in April 1980 to raise money for cancer research. (TerryFox.org)

Transcript

When Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope and announced to the country that his cancer had returned, he told Canadians to keep his dream alive. 

"He hoped that people would continue after him if he wasn't able to. And Canadians have done that, and people around the world. It's truly amazing," his brother Fred Fox told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I don't think any of us thought that, you know, there'd be still thousands of people every year participating in the Terry Fox runs in communities small and large across Canada and around the world."

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope. The Terry Fox Foundation has announced that this year's Terry Fox Runs will be held virtually on Sunday, Sept. 20. 

The early days 

Terry Fox was just 22 years old in 1980, when he attempted to run across Canada on a prosthetic leg to raise money for cancer research.

He started in St. John's, N.L., on April 12, with the goal of finishing in Vancouver, near his hometown of Port Coquitlam, B.C. 

Those early days were a struggle for Terry, his brother says. There wasn't a lot of fanfare at first, and he had to look inward for the motivation to keep going every day.

He had to stop his run, just outside Thunder Bay, Ont., because of a recurrence of the disease in his lungs. (Canadian Press)

"What kept Terry going truly was you know, the memories and the thoughts every moment of cancer patients that felt he left behind in the cancer wards," Fred said. 

"He would say that he believed he was set free of his cancer diagnosis, and he wanted tomake sure that that would be the same for others."

Fred was working in Toronto at the time. As the Marathon of Hope picked up steam, he remembers watching his brother every night on the evening news.

When Terry arrived in Toronto in July, Fred joined him on the run down University Avenue to City Hall. 

"I finally was able to experience firsthand the impact that Terry was having on our country, on so many people," he said. "It's a memory that I'll never forget it and a feeling I'll never forget."

'Terry's last miles'

He joined his brother again a month later, on Aug. 19, in northern Ontario. This time, he says, there was no crowd of thousands cheering him on — "just Terry, lonely, running on the highway."

"It was a totally different experience. And that's when we maybe realize that, you know, Terry wasn't feeling very well at that point," Fred said. 

"Little did we know at that point that we'd seen some of Terry's last miles to run."

Fred Fox said his brother would be proud of all the money raised in his name for cancer research. (John Robertson/CBC)

Terry's journey came to an end on Sept. 1 outside Thunder Bay, Ont., when he was overcome by a coughing fit and severe chest pains. The next day, he held a press conference to announce his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He would not finish his run. 

"I'm not going to give up on the fight, and I'm going to do everything I can," he said at the time. "I hope that what I've done has been an inspiration, and I hope I will see it now, that people will take off and continue where I left off."

Fox died on June 28, 1981. 

When Terry Fox set out on his Marathon of Hope, he set a goal of raising $10 million for cancer research. As he gained momentum and followers, he moved the goal post to $24 million — $1 for each person in Canada at the time.

When he ended his marathon in September, he'd raised $1.7 million. But the donations kept pouring in, and by April, he'd raised more then $23 million.

People all over the world participate in Terry Fox runs every year in his honour. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Since then, annual Terry Fox runs in his honour have raised more than $800 million for cancer research. It's a figure that blows Fred Fox away.

"That's what it was all about, was raising money for cancer research," Fred said. "That's all Terry wanted to know his sacrifice would do. And he'd be so happy and proud to know the money that's been raised. It has had an impact, for sure."

Virtual run for the 40th

The Terry Fox Foundation had been planning a huge public events for this year's annual runs to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope. 

That all changed with the global pandemic hit. But Fred says Canadians kept writing in and begging them not to cancel. 

Instead, this year's organizers are asking people to sign up at terryfox.org to "walk, run, dance or hike on a favourite route with your favourite people," while raising funds for cancer research, and sharing their journeys on social media.

"It'll seem like we're all still doing it all together, although we're kind of doing it within our own little bubbles," Fred said.

Terry Fox and Fred Fox in 1980. The brothers were just 14 months apart in age. (Courtesy Fred Fox)

Fred says his most cherished memories of his brother have nothing to do the Marathon of Hope. 

"It was, you know, the memories of being kids, playing ball hockey in front of our house with our dad and brother. Or Terry and I as young teenagers," he said.

"Mom and Dad said, you know, 'We aren't going to buy everything you want just because you want it. You have to earn it. You have to work for it.'

"And where we lived in Port Coquitlam, where there was no Tim Hortons or McDonald's, we picked blueberries to make a little bit of extra money to buy a first set of golf clubs or first pair of blue jeans. And those were fond memories of being in the blueberry fields and working hard, but also having a great time.

"Growing up with Terry is something I'll never, never forget."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Menaka Raman-Wilms.

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