Terrance Stanley (Terry) Fox, CC, athlete, humanitarian, cancer research activist (born 28 July 1958 in Winnipeg, MB; died 28 June 1981 in New Westminster, BC). Terry Fox inspired the nation and the world through his courageous struggle against cancer and his determination to raise funds for cancer research. Not long after losing his leg to cancer, Fox decided to run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. He ran from St. John’s, NL, to Thunder Bay, ON, covering over 5,000 km in 143 days, but was forced to halt his Marathon of Hope when cancer invaded his lungs. The youngest person to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada, he has inspired millions across the world, many of whom participate in the annual Terry Fox Run for cancer research.

Early Life

Fox was very determined from a young age. This was particularly evident in his approach to athletics, especially basketball. Although he was relatively small in grade eight (at five feet tall) and had little natural ability, Fox was determined to make his school basketball team. Hours of practice and sheer persistence paid off, and Fox was eventually chosen for his high school’s starting team. Fox also ran cross-country and played soccer and rugby, and was co-winner of his school’s Athlete of the Year Award in grade twelve. His determination and dedication were again recognized at Simon Fraser University, where he was chosen for the school’s junior varsity basketball team.

Diagnosis and Determination

In 1977, when he was only 18, Fox was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer), and doctors amputated his right leg 15 cm above the knee. Within weeks he was walking with the help of an artificial leg. Not long after, in the summer of 1977, Fox joined Rick Hansen’s wheelchair basketball team; he would win three national titles as part of the team.

But Fox had another goal. During his months of chemotherapy Fox witnessed the suffering of many others afflicted with cancer, and, characteristically, he was determined to do something to help. On the night before his surgery, he had read an article about Dick Traum, an amputee who had run the New York City Marathon; inspired by Traum’s example, Fox decided he would run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. He started marathon training in 1979, using a prosthetic leg adapted for running, and ran a marathon in Prince George, BC, in August of that year. By the time he began his Marathon of Hope in April 1980, he had logged over 5,000 km on training runs, and had enlisted the support of the Canadian Cancer Society and companies including Ford Motor Company, Imperial Oil, and Adidas.

Marathon of Hope

Fox began his cross-country Marathon of Hope on 12 April 1980, dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland. He ran about 42 km (roughly a marathon) a day through the Atlantic provinces, Québec, and Ontario. Fox was supported by long-time friend Doug Alward, who drove a van along the route, and by his brother Darrell, who joined them in New Brunswick.

While media coverage was slow at first, communities such as Grand Falls and Bishop’s Falls, NL, came out to support him, and Fox gained increasing attention as he ran through the Atlantic provinces and Québec. By the time he reached Ontario, he was a national star, feted by thousands at appearances organized by the Canadian Cancer Society. Fox met Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, British actress Maggie Smith, and NHL greats Bobby Orr and Darryl Sittler, who presented Fox with his 1980 NHL All-Star sweater.

However, Fox was forced to stop running just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, on 1 September 1980, as the cancer had invaded his lungs. By this time, he had run for 143 days and covered 5,373 km. Although Fox vowed he would complete his cross-Canada run, he was unable to return to the road; he died less than a year later at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, BC, only a month before his twenty-third birthday.

Legacy

Fox’s goal to raise one dollar for every Canadian, or about $24 million, was reached on 1 February 1981, but fundraising has continued in his name. His bravery and determination have inspired many, including Steve Fonyo, Rick Hansen, and Isadore Sharp, who organized the first annual Terry Fox Run in 1981. The Terry Fox Foundation, which now organizes the annual run, has raised over $600 million for cancer research. Millions of people in Canada and around the world participate every year in the Foundation’s annual Terry Fox Run, and in 2007 the Terry Fox Research Institute was established. Many schools, buildings, roads, and parks around the country have been named in his honour. In 2004, Fox ranked second after Tommy Douglas in the CBC Television program “The Greatest Canadian.” Fox’s story has been told in books, television movies — the award-winning “The Terry Fox Story” (1983) and “Terry” (2005) — and the documentary Into the Wind (2010), which was co-directed by Steve Nash.

See also The Courage of Terry Fox and 25th Anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.

Honours and Awards

Companion, Order of Canada (1980)
Recipient, Order of the Dogwood (now Order of British Columbia) (1980)
Lou Marsh Trophy (1980)
Canadian Newsmaker of the Year (1980 and 1981)
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1981)