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Marathon of Hope

By Joe Leary

Published 12:06 PST, Fri February 2, 2024

Over the course of a decades-long broadcast career I’ve had the good fortune to meet and become acquainted with scores of famous people in numerous fields such as arts, sports, politics, media and entertainment alike.

Whenever questioned about the most cherished brush with fame I’ve experienced along the way, the answer is simple: Terry Fox. It’s not every day you meet a modern day hero. My personal Terry Fox encounter occurred a scant few months prior to his death in June, 1981.

While the meeting was brief it was a personal exchange that I will forever hold near and dear.

Terry’s story is one of determination and inspiration combined. Having lost a leg to cancer in his teens, the Winnipeg-born, Coquitlam-raised Fox took it upon himself to become an activist in the cause of cancer awareness and chose to run across Canada in 1980 in a fundraising effort.

As the representative of the Canadian Cancer Society in Toronto at the time, Bill Vigars first encountered Terry Fox shortly after the run began.

He would spend almost the entirety of the historic ‘Marathon of Hope’ by the young man’s side.

Their incredible journey together is chronicled in the number one bestseller, Terry and Me, available on Amazon and all major book stores.

“My first introduction to Terry was at 4 a.m. in Edmunston, New Brunswick,” recalls Vigars. “After a short conversation we hopped into his van heading down the dark deserted highway to where he had finished the day before. 

Few words were spoken; it was too early for everyone. 

We dropped him off and drove away leaving him in the chilling morning air.

There were no cars on that lonely highway, just the odd transport rumbled by. I watched him that morning—in awe of how he was able to run on that jerry-rigged artificial leg”. Prosthetics have come a long way in the past 40 years. Terry Fox performed miracles, given the primitive nature of his artificial limb. 

Vigars remembers, only too vividly; Fox’s face being a combination of concentration, pain and determination. “I will never be able to understand how he was physically able to accomplish what he did: 143 days—a marathon each day. His recuperative ability was beyond my comprehension”. The pain was palpable. 

“He would suffer severe shin splints; abrasions to the stump of his prosthetic that would cause bleeding and that heavy artificial leg jamming up into his groin with every step. He used to say "Mentally, can't run a marathon a day so I break it down into small segments, from one telephone post to the next, repeatedly for 26 miles”. 

In reading Vigars recollections it’s clear that Terry Fox was on a mission and shunned the heroic accolades that were hoisted upon him along the journey. “He was just a regular young man but doing an amazing feat,” says Vigars. 

“I heard him speak to a crowd of people in a park as he told his story of seeing the suffering of children in the cancer clinic that he shared with them back home.

They stood transfixed as he spoke of his desire to help raise funds to find a cure. I had great respect for him and realized his intentions were pure”. 

Fast forward to 2024 and nearly a billion dollars has been raised since the ‘Marathon of Hope’
in 1980.

Events continue to be held annually; not only across Canada but around the world in Terry’s name,thanks to the hard workof thousands of volunteers. 

Our education system plays a major role in keeping his legacy alive, using Terry’s selfless journey as an example of how one person can make a difference in the world and that through hard work dreams can come true. 

“Terrysaid time and again that he was no different than the next guy and fame was not his goal. 

He was single-minded in what he wanted—to raise funds for research to find a cure for cancer. I also found out that he was a gentle, kind person with a dry sense of humour”.

Since his passing the name and legacy of Terry Fox endures to this day as High Schools, Parks; Community Centres and natural landmarks across Canada bear his name in honour. “Although he was very appreciative of any accolades he was happier to see the outpouring contributions to his cause,” adds Vigars.

“Millions of dollars were pledged in the weeks and months after his run ended and by the time he passed away in June, 1981; we reached his goal of raising $1 dollar for every Canadian. The population of Canada at the time was 24 million people”.

While the image of Terry Fox remains one of determination, focused on the road ahead and obvious pain as he endured, Vigars can attest firsthand that regardless of his personal discomfort or fatigue, there was another level to this Canadian hero altogether.

“At the end of the day Terry was relaxed and funny; kind and gentle. We would all enjoy dinner together just like a family”.

X-@reallyjoeleary • #instagram-@joeleary

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