Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A true Canadian Hero
Today's post is totally off topic, but seeing as each and every family I know has been touched by cancer, and given the importance of today for the battle against cancer in Canada, I know everyone will understand.

25 years ago today, a young Canadian man, who had recently lost his leg to cancer, began what he called his Marathon of Hope - a bid to run from Newfoundland to British Columbia. For several months he ran, with his distinctive hop-skip, the equivalent of a marathon EVERY day, gaining a bigger following from city to city. Today in Newfoundland, his family unveiled a monument commemorating this anniversary.

A few years ago I put together the following piece about him. Though it's sad in many ways, I hope you enjoy reading the story of one of Canada's most dedicated and selfless citizens.

A Tribute to Terry Fox

Below you'll find a speech I wrote back in April of 1983, when I had to lead the morning assembly at my school. In the last few months it's come to have even greater relevance to my life than ever before. I was going to edit it (as my writing has improved somewhat since then), but decided to leave it as is so as not to lose the essence of the feelings I was trying to convey.

I have, however, included a hyperlink to the entire text of the the letter of Terry Fox's that I quote as well as a hyperlink to the words he spoke when he learned his cancer had spread. At the bottom of the page you will find links for further information. My thanks to the Terry Fox Foundation site for making the quotations available. When I originally wrote the piece, I did not note down the exact source, never even thinking that in the future I might want to publish it. I was most relieved to find the website and the means to attribute credit.

Copyright Teresa Eckford, 1983/2001

Several weeks ago I went to see the movie "Gandhi". I previously had known little about him and I was amazed at how one small man could unite a nation of people to the extreme that he did. But then I started to think of how one man recently united Canada to the same extent, unselfishly giving himself so that others could live a longer life. Terry Fox.

This is a passage from his letter to the Canadian Cancer Society explaining his reasoning behind the idea of the cross country run which became known as the Marathon of Hope.
"...I was rudely awakened by the feelings that surrounded and coursed through the cancer clinic. There were the faces with brave smiles, and the ones who had given up smiling. There were the feelings of hopeful denial, and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop ... and I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause."
And this he did, exactly three years ago today, on April 12, 1980, Terry Fox started his Marathon of Hope, to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society. He dipped his artificial right leg (he had lost the real one to cancer three years before) in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John's, Newfoundland. He ran 26 miles or more a day and we laughed and cheered him all the way to Thunder Bay and there we stopped and cried with him when he discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs. From then until his death in June, 1981, we prayed and hoped that God would spare his life. There were telethons and mini-marathons, danceathons and many other fund raising events held during the months before his death.

When it was announced that the cancer had spread to his lymph glands everyone knew that the end was not far off. But still we continued to blindly believe that Terry could not die. But he did. Many tears flowed that Sunday when it was announced "Terry Fox is dead." Even so the money continued to flow in. It is estimated that in just over a year, one brave young man managed to inspire a country to raise over $24,000,000.00.

Terry, who died exactly one month before his 23rd birthday, has done more for Canadian unity than the Constitution or the Montreal Expos. He once said "I just wish people would realize that anything is possible if they try, that dreams are made if people try."

Terry might be dead, but the feelings of unity, the faith and the love he brought into our hearts will remain forever.


Every September since his death Terry Fox Runs have been held across the Canada, as well as in many other countries around the world. The fundraising still continues. His legacy truly is one that will not die. If you want to learn more about Terry Fox, click on the links below:

The Terry Fox Foundation
The Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program

A number of monuments have been erected to honour him:

Ottawa's Terry Fox statue is downtown, opposite Parliament Hill, while in Thunder Bay, the monument marks the spot where he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope.

And on the SFU campus in Burnaby, BC, there's a statue - part of a bigger website dedicated to Terry.
There is also a Terry Fox Memorial in Vancouver, outside BC Place Stadium and a library and high school are named after him in his hometown of Port Coquitlam, BC.

In September 1980, Terry was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the youngest person to be so honoured, and is included in the National Library's Heroes of Lore and Yore.

UPDATE - In April 2005, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a special coin, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the start of Terry's Marathon of Hope.

You can read more about Terry Fox and his legacy at CBC Online.


1 comment:

Larissa said...

Wow--that's a beautiful speech. I hope his legacy brings about a lot of good in the future!