Terry Fox's hometown is Port Coquitlam, B.C. In September 2006, when we were living in Surrey, just east of Vancouver, we decided to go to Port Coquitlam to do the Terry Fox Run.
It was a cold rainy morning when we boarded the five-minute ferry to take us across the Fraser River. The first time I came to Port Coquitlam was when I accompanied my son, Liam, on a school trip to the Terry Fox Library, which has a granite statue of Terry outside and memorabilia from the Marathon of Hope inside.
Inside the front door, a glass case houses Terry's prosthetic leg, the sneaker and the sock that he wore throughout his run. The leg looks just like it did when it was attached to Terry, when he left it uncovered so the entire world could see the effects of cancer. The sneaker is a blue Adidas with its trademark white stripes. The sole is worn and covered with the shoe goo that was used in the '80s to extend the life of the sneaker.
The white sock is full of holes and stained with blue dye from the sneaker and rust from the prosthetic. It is stretched out of shape. That sock humbled me. It made the hair on my neck stand on end. I felt like I was in the presence of a higher entity. Apparently Terry wore that sock on his prosthetic leg not only for the entire Marathon of Hope but also for three months after despite protests from his mother. When she begged him to change it, Terry argued that it wasn't dirty, as artificial legs don't sweat.
The sock was his constant companion. Like his brother Darrell and friend, Doug Alward, that sock stuck by Terry through sleet and snow, traffic and darkness, obscurity and fame, pain and joy, and through sickness and death.
I thought of Terry's sock that rainy September morning in Port Coquitlam as we drove to the start of the Terry Fox Run. We had to park several blocks from the start line because of the thousands of people who had come to participate in the run and carry on Terry's dream.
When we arrived, we made our way to the front so my daughter, Marie, who was then seven, could present Terry's mother with a gold pendant encircling a Terry Fox Loonie handmade by St. John's jeweller, Frank Ewers. Then Rick Hansen came to the mike and told the crowd how he met Terry after he heard about his amputation and asked him to play on his wheelchair basketball team. A Rod Stewart look-a-like sang a song he dedicated to Terry called "Never Give up on a Dream" (from Rod Stewart's 1981 album "Tonight I'm Yours").
Rolly and Betty Fox thanked the many people for coming out, despite the rain, and making their son's dream a reality. My children, who weren't alive during the Marathon of Hope, knew they were part of something special. Something important. Something bigger than them.
Fast-forward one year. It's September 2007 and we're living back in St. John's. It's Sunday morning and we're standing outside the bandstand at Quidi Vidi Lake waiting for the word that the Terry Fox Run has officially begun. It's cold and wet, much like it was in Port Coquitlam a year earlier. A dedicated group of organizers sign people in, collect sponsor sheets and give out donuts. I take a rough head count. I estimate not many more than 100 people have gathered to run, walk and bike around the lake.
Where is everyone else, I wonder? Did the weather scare them away?
The weather didn't deter Terry from running. He got up every morning at 4:30, in the cold and dark, and ran. For 143 days Terry dragged himself out of a warm bed to run a marathon. In the beginning - before word of his mission spread - he was mostly alone. Imagine how nasty the weather can be on an April morning in Newfoundland.
The weather was equally bad in Coquitlam in September 2006, but people still came out in droves to raise money for cancer research and to carry on Terry's dream.
Coquitlam is Terry's hometown, you can argue. That's why there were so many people participating.
But Terry started his Marathon of Hope here in St. John's, I will argue back. Have people here forgotten the importance of the Run?
Growing up we used to frequent the Terry Fox Playground on Ridge Road and Higgins Line near the Marine Institute. After several years, the playground became derelict. It now seems to be neglected and forgotten. I hope the same thing doesn't happen to the Terry Fox Run in St. John's. After all this is the place where the Marathon of Hope began, on April 12, 1980, when Terry Fox, with socks fresh and clean, started on the journey that changed the world.
Susan Flanagan is a freelance writer who still has her certificate from the 1982 Terry Fox Run. As a teen, she spent a week at the Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa and has visited Mount Terry Fox in B.C. near the Alberta border. Her dream is to see at least 1,000 people show up at the lake Sept. 14.
How to get involved
Show up in your walking shoes at the bandstand at Quidi Vidi Lake a few minutes before 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14. If you'd like to make a donation or buy one of the T-shirts or fleeces, Heather Strong, provincial director of the Terry Fox Foundation, will be there with volunteers like Sherry Ryan and John Calver.
Don't worry about not being able to run. The event is non-competitive and there are no prizes. Your participation is more important than completing a set distance. How you propel yourself is also up to you. You can run, walk, roller blade, bike or use a stroller or wheelchair.
If you want to go a step further, pick up a pledge sheet ahead of time. Pledge sheets are available at New World Fitness and all Scotia Bank Branches in St. John's. You can also register online at www.terryfoxrun.org.
Pledges can be collected online or you can download a pledge sheet off the Internet at http://www.terryfoxrun.org/local/files/2008/101%202008%20eng%20comm%20pledge%20sheet%20FINAL.pdf
If you really want to get involved, encourage a friend to participate and be the first to sponsor her. Be creative. Collect pledges for your dog. Volunteer to help out at the lake on the day of the run.
Or get your co-workers involved in The National Terry Fox at Work Day. How far will your colleagues go to support a dream of a cancer-free future? Dress down? Head shave? Used book sale? Car wash? Register your office at www.terryfoxrun.org or call 1-888-836-9786.
Did you know:
When the Terry Fox Loonie first circulated in April 2005, it marked the first time a person other than royalty has been depicted on a Canadian coin in regular circulation.
Terry Fox's grave is not far away from the Terry Fox Library in Port Coquitlam. His tombstone is unassuming and looks exactly like all the other grave markers in the cemetery.
Terry Fox could have had multimillion-dollar conglomerates promoting the Marathon of Hope, but decided against going that route. Terry didn't want to become famous for running across Canada. He simply wanted to raise awareness of the need for donating money so that research for a cure could continue. To this day, the Terry Fox Run has no corporate sponsorship.
Terry Fox remains the youngest Canadian ever to be awarded Companion of the Order of Canada.
In May of this year the van that accompanied Terry on the Marathon of Hope began a cross-country tour in St. John's. The van, which had been donated by Ford Canada, was sold after Terry returned to B.C. for treatment. It had only been owned by two other families and when rediscovered, it had the same orange shag carpet and fixtures that it had in 1980.
The Terry Fox Run takes place on the same day every year (the second Sunday after labour day) in more than 50 countries.
Terry's brother, Darrell, is national director of the Terry Fox Foundation that administers the run.
To date more than $400 million has been collected by the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research.
When Terry was forced to end his run just east of Thunder Bay, Ont. Darryl Sittler and the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team offered to complete the run for him. Steve Fonyo, also an amputee, later completed the entire route.
Terry Fox ran a full marathon for 143 days. The Newfoundland and Labrador Marathon takes place on the same day as the Terry Fox Run.
Questions can be directed to Heather Strong at the Terry Fox Foundation office at 140 Water Street, Suite 603, or email@example.com, phone 576-8428.