Terry Fox (1958-1981) was a Canadian athlete and cancer activist, whose 1980 cross-country run—dubbed the Marathon of Hope—captivated and inspired a nation. At the time of his death in 1981, Fox had raised over $24 million for cancer research, exceeding his goal of raising one dollar for every Canadian citizen. He received the highest civilian honours awarded by both British Columbia and Canada, and the annual Terry Fox Run is held in over sixty countries worldwide.
Terrance Stanley Fox was born on July 28, 1958, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His father, Rolly Fox, was a switchman on the Canadian National Railway, and in 1966 he, his wife Betty, and their children Fred, Terry, Darrell, and Judith moved to Surrey, British Columbia, eventually settling in Port Coquitlam in 1968.
Fox was extremely competitive growing up, playing sports like rugby, baseball, and basketball alongside his friend Doug Alward. At just five-feet two inches Fox tried out for his eighth grade basketball team, the Mary Hill Cobras, and was the final player chosen to the nine-person squad based on his gritty determination. By the twelfth grade, Fox had grown eight inches and was a starting guard on the Port Coquitlam Ravens, earning Athlete of the Year honours alongside his friend Alward.
A Future in Doubt
Fox was accepted to British Columbia's Simon Fraser University (SFU) in 1976, where he enrolled in the kinesiology program, studying human movement with the hope of becoming a high school physical education teacher and coach. He attended SFU's junior varsity basketball tryouts and impressed coach Alex Devlin with his competitive spirit and defensive tenacity. He was selected for the team over players with more natural talent, based as always on Fox's relentless intensity.
In March of 1977, Fox began to complain about a pain in his right knee after a run around the local track. He spent a week on crutches, attributing the pain to a car accident suffered in 1976, but the knee continued to swell and the pain intensified. Terry's mother took him to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, where he was examined by orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Michael Piper. The results of the exam were devastating, as it was revealed that Fox's pain was caused by osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that softens bone tissue and can easily spread to nearby muscles. After a round of second opinions, Dr. Piper determined that Fox would require an amputation six inches above the knee and chemotherapy to guard against any malignant cells circulating in his blood.
Fox was notified of his condition while surrounded by his family and long-time friend Doug Alward in the paediatric ward. It was determined that Fox would undergo amputation on March 9, 1977. The night before his operation, Fox was visited by his high school basketball coach Terri Fleming, who arrived holding a copy of Runner's World magazine featuring an article on Dick Traum, an amputee who had completed the 1976 New York City Marathon. Inspired by Traum, Fox began learning to walk on a prosthetic limb just three weeks after the operation, and his doctors were shocked at the speed of his recovery. He was admitted to the British Columbia Cancer Control Agency in Vancouver, where he underwent chemotherapy treatments for the next sixteen months.
In July 1977, in the midst of chemotherapy, Fox was recruited by the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association's director, Rick Hansen. He joined the Vancouver Cable Cars for the 1978 season and proceeded to participate in three consecutive national championship campaigns. Fox was unsatisfied, though, with the restricted movement of wheelchair athletics, and his mind often returned to the magazine feature on amputee marathon runner Dick Traum. He approached his former middle school basketball coach, Bob McGill, who was now the principal of Hastings Junior High, about using the school's facilities for training purposes. McGill quickly offered his full support, and by February 1979 Fox had reconstructed his running form from scratch.
Using two short steps on his remaining leg for every time he planted the customized prosthetic leg, Fox added one half of a kilometre per week to his practice routine. In August, Fox and Alward participated in a marathon in Prince George, with Fox finishing just ten minutes behind the last two-legged participant. Encouraged, Fox began formulating a plan to accomplish the impossible: He would run across the nearly eight-thousand-kilometre diameter of Canada, beginning at the Atlantic Ocean and arriving at the Pacific, in order to raise money for cancer research. Fox hoped to raise one dollar from every single Canadian in what he dubbed the Marathon of Hope.
On October 15, 1979 Fox wrote a letter to the Canadian Cancer Society, outlining his plans and requesting sponsorship support. He organized a dance to raise travelling funds and received a van from the Ford Motor Company, gas from Imperial Oil, and shoes from Adidas. By April 1980 Fox had run over 5,000 kilometres while training, and he felt physically and emotionally strong enough to undertake the Herculean task he had set for himself. On April 12, Fox and Alward stood on the shoreline of St. John's, Newfoundland. After dipping his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic and collecting a jug of water that he intended to pour into the Pacific, Fox set out along the Trans-Canada Highway, with Alward following behind in the support van, heading west.
Fox battled inclement weather, cysts, and blisters, and a demanding public appearance schedule organized by the cancer society while running the equivalent distance of a full marathon every day. He arrived in Nova Scotia in early May, entered New Brunswick in early June, and crossed into Ontario by the end of the month, greeted by an extravagant parade. By this point, Fox was running a remarkable forty-eight kilometres per day, and his brother Darrell joined him and Alward on the road, helping to dispel some of the tension that had strained the two friends' relationship. At this point in the journey, media attention and—by extension—fund-raising was growing exponentially. In Toronto, Fox was rejuvenated by a visit from two of his favourite hockey players, Darryl Sittler and Bobby Orr, and he reached northern Ontario by the end of August.
On August 29, just past the halfway point, Fox began to complain of chest pains and cold-like symptoms. By August 31, he was forced to stop running and was admitted to a hospital in Thunder Bay. It was determined that the cancer had spread to Fox's lungs, with one tumour exceeding the size of a fist. Fox would be unable to complete the Marathon of Hope and flew back to British Columbia where he underwent treatment at Royal Columbian Hospital once more. The news of his condition sparked an avalanche of support from athletes, musicians, actors, and public figures across Canada, with over $10 million of support rolling in during the final months of 1980.
Early in 1981, the cancer spread to Fox's abdomen, and his health began to rapidly deteriorate. In February, it was revealed that the Canadian Cancer Society had received $24.2 million in donations made in Fox's name. Fox had achieved his goal of raising one dollar for every Canadian citizen. He was made a companion of the Order of Canada by Governor General Ed Schreyer, and the premier of British Columbia, Bill Bennett, inducted him into the Order of the Dogwood, both of which are the government's highest honours. Fox also received the 1980 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete.
Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981, from complications caused by pneumonia, and his funeral was broadcast live on national television as flags were flown at half-mast. He was named the Canadian of the Decade for the 1980s, and has more recently been voted Number 2 Greatest Canadian by a popular vote, coming in behind Tommy Douglas, a popular premier of Saskatchewan. Port Coquitlam Senior Secondary School was renamed Terry Fox Secondary School in 1986, and numerous schools, streets, and athletic facilities have followed suit. Statues have been erected in his honour in Ottawa, Thunder Bay, and at Simon Fraser University, and in 2005 a limited edition Canadian dollar coin with Fox's image began circulation. The annual Terry Fox Run is held in September in over sixty countries, and as of 2016, more than $700 million has been raised for cancer research in Fox's name.