Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope: 35 Years Later

It’s been 35 years since a handsome, curly headed young man with one leg set out from St. John's Newfoundland to run across Canada and raise money for cancer research. Along the way, Terry Fox captured the attention and heart of the entire country.
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Terry Fox Statue, Parliament Hill, Ottawa (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Terry Fox called it his Marathon of Hope, and he wanted it to raise both attention to and money for cancer research. This remarkable young man, who was only 21 years old when he set out from St. John's, Newfoundland, was handsome, articulate and sure of himself. His goal was to raise one million dollars.

Sure, people had run marathons before, but attempting to run across Canada with an artificial leg was audacious. Terry was both audacious and determined. This edition of Rewind goes back to 1980. You'll hear how the run started and took off with a dip of Terry's foot in the Atlantic Ocean, through the rough early days, the days of discouragement and fatugue, then on to the growing awareness amongst Canadians of his cause, the support and adulation he attracted and then finally to the days of heartbreak. 

On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his artifical leg in the Atlantic Ocean to begin his Marathon of Hope. (CBC)

In April of 1980, Terry was preparing to start his epic cross-country. He talked to Ted Withers of CBC Radio News about how he'd lost his leg, how he'd reached the decision to run across the country and how he wanted to both raise money for cancer research and be an example to other people with disabilities.  

The first few weeks of Terry's run went mostly unreported. He was not yet a national icon, just a young man with a crazy dream. But the CBC Radio program The Sound of Sports sensed a great story in the making. They decided to have regular Terry Fox updates on CBC Radio. 

Terry Fox, 1980. (The Canadian Press)

Terry's first week on the road was tough. He faced hilly terrain, snow and cold. He liked to run in shorts so people could see his artificial leg, but that made it chilly. There were frustrating lapses in publicity, when people had no idea who he was. 

Farmer Chip Hunter says the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope corn maze took more than a year of planning. (Submitted by Hunter Brothers)

Terry ran the equivalent of a marathon every single day. Some days brought danger, but the turnout and donations continued to be encouraging as he neared Quebec. His artificial leg had given him some problems though, with the knee joint wearing out. Luckily he'd been able to have it repaired. 

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of Terry's run this year, Chip Hunter of the Hunter Brothers Farm in Florenceville, New Brunswick has created a giant 6 acre corn maze that depicts Terry running. When shown the aerial photograph, Gwen Smith-Walsh, the New Brunswick- PEI Director of the Terry Fox Foundation, was amazed.  This larger than life image of Terry is especially impressive because it's just metres from the road where Terry ran 35 years ago.

There aren't any recordings in the CBC archives of Terry's run through Quebec. He wrote in his diary that it was a discouraging time. He described howling winds, some people honking and other well meaning people who stopped to offer him a ride.   

One of Terry Fox's training journals is seen on display at the media viewing of a Terry Fox exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Wednesday April 1, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

However, it's not that Terry was ignored. In Montreal, Mayor Jean Drapeau greeted Fox personally and allowed him to run across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Both La Presse and The Gazette ran enthusiastic profiles of Terry Fox. 

Also, he got a surprise from the hotel magnate Izzy Sharpe, owner of the Four Seasons hotel chain, who had recently lost his son to cancer. He offered Terry pledges from 1,000 corporations as well as his own. 

On June 28, 1980 Terry Fox entered Ontario. In the town of Hawkesbury he was greeted by a brass band and the release of thousands of balloons printed with the slogan, "Welcome Terry. You can do it." Then he was on to Ottawa. 
Terry Fox makes the opening kick-off at an Ottawa Rough Riders game. (Canadian Press)
Terry Fox meets with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa on July 2, 1980. (The Canadian Press)

When he got to the nation's capital, Terry and his crew met Governor General Ed Schreyer. On July 1st he kicked the opening ball at a CFL exhibition game between Ottawa and Saskatchewan. He received a standing ovation from the crowd of 16,000. 

But his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a little disappointing. Trudeau had just returned from Venice, and hadn't been properly briefed. He didn't know who Fox was. After an awkward meeting in a House of Commons hallway, Fox asked the normally adventurous Trudeau to run half a mile with him. Trudeau declined.

Almost everywhere he ran in Ontario, Fox was greeted by crowds lining the roads. Bus drivers stopped when they saw him and would collect donations from their passengers. He had a police escort. His run was covered by local and national media as well as by American news networks. Terry was treated like a rock star, and developed a following of teenage girls.

The fundraising in southern Ontario was wildly successful, some days bringing in as much as $20,000.More than 200 people wrote songs for Terry Fox. The most famous is "Run, Terry, Run."

CBC Radio's Sound of Sports was one of the few media outlets to follow Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope since its beginning. Its host Fred Walker had talked to him many times by phone, but eventually the two had the chance to meet face to face and CBC captured the moment.

Terry Fox took every opportunity to speak with the public or the media. In his book Terry, Douglas Coupland wrote: "Most people who work in the media, and who look at how Terry dealt with the press, say they have no idea how he possibly could have done it. Even minus his marathon exertions, his press efforts alone would have taxed even the most seasoned politician or movie star."

But Terry could get a little tired of the constant questions about pain. He spoke about it with CBC Radio's Rick Cluff in August 1980.

Terry Fox, on his Marathon of Hope run across Canada, days before he had to end it in September 1980. ((Canadian Press))
Northern Ontario saw fewer crowds. Terry ran along the side of the quiet endless highway with just his support van and the police escort for company. The only sounds were the double-step and hop of his footfalls and the squeaking joint in his artificial knee. Terry enjoyed the scenery, but became concerned about the onset of fall and winter. However, before long, there was a much bigger worry. As he approached Thunder Bay, Terry started coughing, and felt a pain in his neck and chest. He kept running. The pain in his chest became so bad that he thought he was having a heart attack. Instead of going to a hospital, he asked to be taken to his motel room and have a doctor visit him there. The doctor thought Terry might have a collapsed lung, and took him to the hospital.
Terry Fox smiles while watching the nationally televised telethon Sept. 9, 1980 to raise money in his honor. Fox was hospitalized after cancer was found in his lungs. (Canadian Press)

A specialist broke the news that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs.

Terry's parents immediately flew to Thunder Bay to join him. He was flown back to Vancouver by private jet, and taken to the Royal Columbian Hospital. It was there that he learned that malignant cells in his knee had metastasised and spread to both lungs. A tumour the size of a golf ball had formed in his right lung, while his left lung had a tumour that was too large and near his heart to be surgically removed. A tearful Terry talked to the media.

While he was in hospital, a national telethon for Terry raised more than $10 million for cancer research, including two $1-million pledges from the B.C. and Ontario governments.

Terry Fox receives the Order of Canada from Govenor-General Edward Schreyer Sept. 19,1980. (Canadian Press)

In September 1980 Terry found out that he was to be appointed a companion of the Order of Canada. Normally recipients travel to Ottawa to get the award, but Terry was too ill to make the trip and Governor General Ed Schreyer went to British Columbia to bestow the honour. 

Pallbearers carry the casket of Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox after his funeral. (Canadian Press)

On February 1st, 1981, Terry realized his dream of raising $1 from every person in Canada to help fight cancer.
Just a few months later, on June 28, 1981, a month before his 23rd birthday, Terry Fox died. 

The flags on Canadian federal buildings were lowered to half-mast from Terry's death until his funeral, an honour normally reserved for distinguished statesmen and politicians.

A few months later, in September 1981, people across Canada first ran for Terry Fox to raise money and celebrate his achievement. 

Over 300,000 people took part in the first Terry Fox Run and raised $3.5 million, Since then, the Terry Fox Run has become the world's largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research, and over $600 million has been raised in his name. The 35th anniversary run is scheduled for Sunday, September 20. For more information, visit the Terry Fox Foundation website.

Runners participate during the Terry Fox Foundation annual run in Havana, Cuba. (The Associated Press)