A Teenager Who Inspired The World

At 18 years of age, most kids have graduated high school and are embarking on their next milestone in life; whether that be university, work, or travel. They’re biggest worries would include uncertainty around their careers, whether they have enough beer money for that next party, or whether their high school relationship is going to last. Not Terry Fox. At 18, Terry was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his right knee. He was told his chance of survival would be 50%, 35% higher than a few years ago. It was this moment, that Terry realised the importance of cancer research, and vowed to make a difference in whichever way he could. Due to the lack of knowledge in cancer research in 1977, their best chance of survival was to amputate his leg above the knee. With a prosthetic leg, Terry committed to running across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. He called it, ‘The Marathon of Hope’. 

Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 28th, 1958. Even at a young age growing up, Terry’s character was one of competitiveness, and mental toughness. He was passionate about his sports, and always committed to getting the most out of himself. That’s why it was no surprise to his family that after receiving the horrific news on his amputation, he began researching similar patients who now operate on one prosthetic leg. In his research, Terry came across another amputee with a prosthetic leg who participated in marathons. It was this moment that the incredible legacy of Terry Fox began.

Less than two years after his amputation, Terry began to train for his ‘Marathon of Hope’. Terry spent hours and hours of rehabilitation getting familiar with his new leg. He hoped that participating in this marathon, he would be able to touch all parts of Canada – running from the east coast to the west – raising Canadian eyebrows to the gravity and enormity of this challenge. Doing so on his prosthetic leg, he hoped to run over 5,500km from East to West. A few months before his marathon, Terry wrote to the Canadian Cancer Society, “I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to”. On April 12th, 1980, Terry dips his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic Ocean and begins his odyssey. 

 

“It’s one thing to run across Canada, but now, people are really going to know what cancer is.”

 

Terry was on the road for just under 5 months, through ice storms and summer heat he covered 5,373km, through six provinces, running an absurd 42km each and every day. A tremendous achievement for an able-bodied runner, let alone an amputee. During this time, the support from the public accumulated, along with the funds raised towards cancer research. Despite the pain, exhaustion and wear of his prosthetic leg, he continued to battle. 

On September 1st, 1980, Terry collapsed outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. The pain became too much for him to continue. After being transported back to British Columbia for treatment, doctors confirmed his primary cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. Upon hearing this news, Terry refused to give in. “I’m gonna do my very best. I’ll fight. I promise I won’t give up”. Although Terry couldn’t complete his marathon, the overwhelming public support remained. Donations continued to stream through, totalling $24.17m by February, raising $1 for every Canadian. On June 28th, 1981, one month short of his twenty-third birthday, Terry lost his battle with cancer. However, the world was not ready to forget Terry Fox and what he set out to achieve. 

 

“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue, it’s got to keep going without me.”

 

The Terry Fox Run was held in his memory 3 months after his passing. This event took place in multiple places around the world, with a total of 300,000 people participating in the run, raising $3.5m. These runs are now held annually around the world, with all proceeds going to the Terry Fox Foundation, dedicated to the development of cancer research. 

Due to his tremendous efforts, Terry became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Order of Canada, recognising his outstanding achievements. This truly remarkable and inspirational character refused to give in to his limitations, and saw an opportunity to create astronomical change for future cancer patients around the world. In April 2020, the foundation announced that they have raised over $800m to support cancer research in Terry’s name.

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