I have a small life lesson to share: Don’t ever ask “Who the hell is Terry Fox?” when you’re talking to a Canadian.
You can say “Hmmm, it’s interesting you bring up Terry Fox, tell me more?” or say “I’m eager to learn more about Terry Fox.”
But please, trust me, you don’t want be snarky when asking about this Canadian legend.
When I first met the parents of my (now) Canadian wife some 15 years ago, my future father-in-law made some quick reference to Terry Fox. Being American, I had no clue. Well, we already had shared a few gin & tonics, so my next question came out pretty easily: “Who the hell’s this Terry Fox?”
Dead silence. Which is not cool when hoping to score points with the one man guarding the hottie sitting next to you.
Well, let me share, in my own words what I now (very well) understand about Terry Fox:
If not earlier in the home, every Canadian learns about Terry Fox during their first formal school year. They learn of a normal boy growing up in the 1960‘s. They learn he fought hard to play basketball in school despite his short height. And sadly, children learn how doctors discovered cancer in Terry’s right leg, which the doctors removed when he was just 18-years old.
Being athletic and determined, Terry Fox decided the loss of his leg would not stop him from running. In fact, Terry Fox decided he would run a marathon. He did successfully finish the marathon, trailing only minutes behind the last two-legged runner.
Motivated to raise awareness and money toward cancer research, Terry Fox decided on a dream to run across Canada. Labeling it the “Marathon of Hope,” Terry trained for over a year. The Canadian Cancer Society sponsored the Marathon of Hope to help defray Terry’s personal costs. Companies such as Ford, Imperial Oil and Adidas came forward, for a camper van, the fuel, and his sneakers, respectively.
Terry’s goal of running across Canada started on the east coast, near St. John’s, Newfoundland. After dipping his leg in the Atlantic Ocean, Terry started the journey fighting strong winds and fierce rain, slowly westward toward British Columbia. During his Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox ran an average of 26 miles, a full marathon, every day. Donations were slow in the beginning, but as Terry continued across the Maritime provinces attracted larger and larger crowds and contributions.
Terry’s health unfortunately deteriorated under the exertion and stress. Stress came not only from running a series of marathons, but the demands of fame and fans impacted Terry’s health as well. Ultimately, Terry was forced to stop after 143 days when it was discovered cancer had spread to his lungs. In total, Terry Fox ran a total of 5,373 kilometers or 3,339 miles. Terry Fox’s goal was to raise $1 for each Canadian. Considering Canada’s population during the time, this makes a total of $24.1 million. By the time Terry had to stop running on September 1, 1980, he had raised only $1.7 million. However, because of continued support and admiration for his efforts, Terry saw his goal realized by February 1, 1981, months before he died in June, 1981.
Despite Terry’s personal end, the Marathon of Hope continues to raise money for cancer research. Today, the Terry Fox Foundation raises millions of dollars annually by telethons and events, particularly the Terry Fox Run, performed by schools nationwide every year in September. The Terry Fox Run raises more money toward cancer research than any other single-day event worldwide.
Terry Fox is a Canadian cultural icon and has created a lasting legacy for fighting cancer. Canadians often think of him when confronted with adversity and the need to persevere. To Canadians, Terry Fox personifies determination, sportsmanship, and selfless giving. These values are important to Canadians as part of their identity.
Therefore, be mindful what you may learn when you ask “Who is Terry Fox?”