A Marathon of Hope

On this day, April 12th, back in 1980, Terry Fox started his “Marathon of Hope” with a plan to run east to west across Canada to raise awareness of cancer.

Three years prior to the run, at the age of 18, Fox was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, commonly referred to as bone cancer, in his right knee. He underwent an amputation followed by 16 months of chemotherapy and wore a prosthesis on his right leg.

Spurred on by an article he received the night before his amputation about Dick Traum, who was the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon, Fox started 14 months of painful training during chemotherapy with a vision of spreading awareness about cancer. He told his family and most of his friends he was going to run a marathon, sharing his thoughts about running the length of Canada only with his friend, Doug Alward, until close to the beginning of his journey. 

Fox wrote to many companies about his quest, and received donations of a camper van from Ford Motor Company; fuel for the trek from Imperial Oil; and his running shoes from Adidas. Alward would drive the van and follow behind Fox on the trip across Canada.

With the Marathon of Hope, Fox wanted to inspire children who were his age or younger and had cancer; increase awareness of cancer; and hoped to raise donations that would equal one dollar for every Canadian, which would equal $24 million dollars.

Once Fox was ready to begin, he dipped his right leg into the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980 and hit the road with plans to run a marathon of 26 miles each and every day from Newfoundland across to Vancouver. He would get up in the morning, run 12 miles, rest and then run the daily remaining 14 miles before resting again for the night to begin the process over again the next day.

After Fox had run over 561 miles without much fanfare or interest, he arrived in Port aux Basques and was pleasantly surprised to find the 10,000 town residents waiting for him with a donation of over $10,000 towards cancer research.

When Fox reached Nova Scotia, his 17-year old brother, Darrell Fox, joined Fox and Alward on the journey, helping to drive the van and provide more support for Fox. 

Ontario was a turning point for Fox’s journey. As he arrived in Ontario at the end of June, he was greeted by a brass band and thousands of residents, who swarmed the streets just to see him and support him. Fox also performed a ceremonial kickoff at a Canadian Football League game in Ottawa in front of 16,000 fans, who gave him a standing ovation.

These moments -- including meeting Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr in southern Ontario -- helped Fox push through the pain he was feeling from his run to keep going. Fox’s Marathon of Hope sadly ended in Thunder Bay on September 1st, 1980. He had run 3,339 miles at that point, but asked to be taken to a hospital as he felt so terrible. Doctors checked out Fox and found that his cancer had progressed and there were now two tumors -- one in each of his lungs.

At that point, Fox put out an announcement that his Marathon of Hope had to be put on hold, but he did plan to finish it when he felt better. He then underwent more chemotherapy to try and treat the tumors.

After Fox’s news, the CTV Television Network put on an impromptu telethon in support of Fox and the Canadian Cancer Society. This telethon raised 10.5 million dollars.

Sadly, Fox was never able to return to his Marathon of Hope, and he died on June 28, 1981 at the age of 22. In honor of Fox’s death, the Government of Canada ordered that flags be lowered to half mast, which was quite uncommon as this honor was typically reserved for statesmen.

A statue of Fox now stands in Thunder Bay to honor his Marathon of Hope and the inspiration he gave to so many on his journey and continues to do so today. 

Mary E. Hart is the Digital Communications Specialist for NTI. She is also a freelance writer, editor and content strategist, specializing in writing copy that will get stuck in your head like an earworm, prompting you to take action. Previously, she worked in Demand Generation marketing for UBM Tech and Ziff Davis Enterprise. In her spare time, Mary is working on the next great novel.


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