In 1980 Terry Fox, a 19-year-old cancer survivor from Port Coquitlam, B.C., started his Marathon of Hope in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Fox’s goal was to run from coast to coast and raise $24 million—$1 for every Canadian—for cancer research.
His run was cut short outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, when the cancer spread to his lungs and he was unable to continue. However, a national telethon raised millions of dollars towards his cause, and by the time of his death in 1981 his fundraising target had been met.
That could well have been the end of the story; but before his death Fox had given his blessing to the idea of an annual fundraising run held in his name, as long as the runs were non-competitive, with no winners or losers. “Terry wanted to the event to be open and inclusive for everyone,” says Donna White, provincial director (B.C. and Yukon) for the Terry Fox Foundation. “He meant it to be a family event, where people would come out and be part of the day.”
The first Terry Fox Run was held in 1981, and raised more than $3.5 million. Since then annual Terry Fox Runs have been held across Canada in communities large and small, and have spread to many other countries round the world. The first Terry Fox Run in Ashcroft was held in 1986, and this year’s run will be held on Sunday, September 18.
Calling it a “run” is a bit of a misnomer, however. “People can walk or bike or run,” says Cam Tedford, who organizes the event along with his wife Deb. There is no charge to take part, although participants are encouraged to raise money via pledges, with funds going to the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research. More than $700 million has been raised since 1980.
Tedford says that even though it is 35 years since Fox’s death, there is still a lot of awareness about him and his Marathon of Hope, and White agrees wholeheartedly. “It’s amazing to see how youth have embraced [Fox’s] legacy and story. He’s not just a figure from history.”
She notes that survival rates from cancer are on the increase, and points to osteosarcoma, the cancer that affected Fox. When he was diagnosed, the survival rate for those with osteosarcoma was 15 per cent, and almost always involved amputation (Fox’s right leg was amputated above the knee). “The survival rate is now 80 per cent, and amputation is far less common. It shows how far we’ve come, and how the research dollars are used.”
Tedford says that the Ashcroft run is always well-supported. “We do extremely well out of this little town, participant- and dollar-wise.” He adds that some people who don’t take part in the run will come by and donate money on the day to help the cause.
Three years ago the organizers arranged for a huge banner near the starting point, which is now there before every run. “People can write down who they’re running for, and they sign it and take pictures,” says Tedford.
White confirms the success of the Ashcroft run year after year. “In 2015, 45 people took part, and they raised $6,679.25,” she says. “That’s amazing for a community of your size. Some people think ‘We’re just a small community.’ But never discount the power of one.
“It shows how empowering Terry’s story is,” she continues. “He tried the impossible, and we try to instill this in youth. He had a dream, a crazy idea, a desire to go do this. He’s our Canadian hero, a local hero; not some amazing professional athlete, just a kid with a dream.”
Registration for this year’s Terry Fox Run starts at 8 a.m. on Sept. 18 at the gazebo in the Heritage Park on Railway, with the run commencing at 9 a.m. Registration forms and pledge sheets can be found at various locations, including Friendship Auto, Irly Bird, and Interior Savings in Ashcroft and the Jade Shop in Cache Creek. Volunteers for the event, to help staff the water stations, are also welcome; anyone interested should contact Cam Tedford at (250) 453-9308.