Childhood & Early Life
Terry Fox was born to Betty Fox and Rolland Fox. From a young age, Terry was persistent in anything he did and hated to lose in any sports.
He loved to play basketball but wasn’t good at it till he was in eighth grade. Although his physical education teacher advised him to take up some other sport because of his low height, Terry persisted. Gradually, with practice, he became good enough to make the basketball team by ninth grade. He, with his best friend Doug Alward, was adjudged as 'Co-Athlete of the Year' in his twelfth grade.
In 1976, he took admission at ‘Simon Fraser University’ to study Kinesiology, the science of body movement, as he aspired to become a physical education teacher. He also made it to the University basketball team.
In 1977, he was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer due to which his right leg was amputated six inches above the knee. He was fitted with an artificial leg and was told by the doctors that his chances of surviving the cancer were fifty percent.
During his treatment in the ‘British Columbia Cancer Control Agency’, he was troubled when he witnessed the sufferings of other cancer patients and resolved to help them. He eventually recovered from cancer.
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When Fox was in hospital for his surgery, he read an article about how an amputee had ran in the ‘New York City Marathon’. He got inspired by the athlete and conceived an elaborate plan to run across the entire length of Canada to inspire other cancer patients, increase cancer awareness and raise money for cancer research.
In 1979, he began an intense and painful training for his marathon and ran a total of more than 5000 kilometres during the training. He also successfully completed a 43 kilometre marathon in Prince George, British Columbia.
In 1979, he sent a letter to the ‘Canadian Cancer Society’, stating his intentions and requested them to sponsor the marathon. The society was initially unconvinced, but eventually agreed to support him after he found other sponsors.
He wrote another letter to corporate companies, asking them to sponsor the shoes, a van and other costs for the marathon. The companies ‘Ford’, ‘Imperial Oil’ and ‘Adidas’ supported him by donating a vehicle, money for gas and shoes respectively. Even his family contributed to the funding by conducting garage sales and dances.
In April of 1980, Fox began his ‘Marathon of Hope’ by dipping his artificial foot in the Atlantic Ocean. His school friend Doug Alward accompanied him as the van’s driver.
He ran about 43 kilometres every day and during the first few days he had to face strong winds, torrential rain, blizzards, blisters and even the lack of enthusiastic reception. But, he was uplifted by his reception at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, where 10,000 citizens donated more than $10,000 to his cause.
Isadore Sharp, the CEO of a chain of hotels and resorts, whose son had succumbed to melanoma, supported Fox’s efforts. Sharp initially offered Fox food and accommodation at his hotels.
As Terry became disheartened with the low donations, Sharp encouraged him by agreeing to donate $2 for every mile that Fox covered. In addition, Sharp used his business contacts to urge 999 other companies to do the same. Fox remained in Montreal for a few days so as to reach Ottawa on ‘Canada Day’, hoping that his timing would help the donations.
After passing through Ontario with a great reception, he reached Ottawa. Here, he met the Governor General and the Prime Minister and attended many games as a special guest.
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When he reached Toronto to a rapturous reception, some distinguished people ran with him, including NHL player Darryl Sittler. He was honoured at the ‘Nathan Phillips Square’ and collected over $100,000 as donations on that day.
He attended many more functions and also gave speeches at gatherings. But, the relentless running affected him as he suffered shin splits, inflamed knee, tendonitis, cyst formation and dizziness. But, he waived off all the advices to slow down and continued running at the same rate.
On 1 September 1980, he suffered chest pains and coughing bouts while running in Ontario. He tried to carry on running but as the pain got worse, he was taken to the hospital.
Fox’s cancer had spread to his lungs. He announced the news in a press conference the next day and returned to British Columbia for further treatment, thus ending his marathon.
He had managed to generate $1.7 million till now. Soon after he stopped running, the ‘CTV Television Network’ organized a fundraiser for his cause. The event was supported by a host of celebrities and managed to generate $10.5 million as donations in just five hours. The donations continued afterwards and reached $23 million by April 1981.
Personal Life & Legacy
He breathed his last on June 28, 1981 after falling into a coma.
In September 1981, after Fox succumbed to cancer, the first Terry Fox Run was jointly organized by businessman Isadore Sharp and Fox’s family. It was a fundraising marathon to raise money for cancer research. Thereafter, the marathon is held every year and has become an international event in which people from all over the world participate.
Several buildings, roads, parks and schools in Canada are named in his honour. Seven statues have also been installed in different parts of Canada.
Rick Hansen, the Paralympic athlete who had inducted Fox into the wheelchair basketball team, took inspiration from Fox’s endeavours and embarked on a tour himself, called ‘Man in Motion World Tour’. He went around the earth in his wheelchair and raised more than $26 million in 34 countries.
Two films have been made on Fox’s life, ‘The Terry Fox Story’ and ‘Terry’. While the former was criticised by Fox’s family for the way it showed his anger, the latter gained more acceptance.