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Terry Fox runs may go virtual

Runs in memory of Terry Fox have become staples of communities across the country and, indeed, the globe. This month marks the 40th anniversary of his Marathon of Hope, but the COVID-19 crisis casts some doubt about the traditional fundraising events, though going virtual remains an option.

It was on Apr. 12, 1980 that Terry Fox set off from Newfoundland on a coast-to-coast run to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. Though the disease that had taken his leg eventually forced him to halt the run, and ended up taking his life at the age of 22, annual runs bearing his name continue to raise money for research.

The fate of this year’s events remains up in the air, says Fred Fox, Terry’s older brother by 14 months.

“Every week it’s a conversation we have; we are still having the discussion and waiting to see where things go in the next couple of weeks,” he said, adding he idea of a virtual walk is currently on the table.

“We are still going to encourage people to participate in any way they can, [though] they might not be able to gather at their local park or wherever they participate.”

The Terry Fox walk has always been a large community event and in Canada, there are 9,000 schools that have walks, said Fox.

“With all the schools being closed and the event happening in September, that’s another thing we have to decide.”

Terry Fox runs are held at schools across the townships, drawing the voluntary support of students, teachers and parents.

“None of it would be possible without the volunteers. We always want to say thank-you to schools, people in communities like Waterloo and Kitchener and all over Canada,” said Fox.

Since its founding, the Terry Fox Foundation has raise more than $800 million for cancer research, fuelled by runs that are now held around the world.

It all started with that initial trek 40 years ago.

“When Terry and his good friend Doug [Alward] left Vancouver to head to Newfoundland to start the Marathon of Hope, how emotional that was,” recalled Fox, noting the bid really hit home when he saw his brother on television. “A couple of days later, I was watching the news at 6 o’clock here in Vancouver, looking to hear about Terry starting the run.”

Although, he didn’t spend too much time with Terry during the Marathon of Hope, Fred said two of his strongest memories involve travelling to meet his brother.

“I flew the red-eye flight from Vancouver to Toronto. We’re landing around 7 in the morning to join Terry, my brother Darryl, Doug Alward, my mom and dad, my sister Judy at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. Then ran with Terry down University Avenue to city hall, and that was an amazing thing seeing so many people and the support he was receiving.”

A month later after returning home Fox took a vacation with his wife to meet Terry. “We drove east and were able to spend two or three days with Terry just south of Wawa, Ontario.

While Terry’s run would eventually capture the public’s attention, it took time to reach that stage.

“Things started out slow, even when Terry was running through Newfoundland, he would hit a small little village or town along the way and people would become aware of Terry. It wasn’t known as well nationally, though slowly as Terry made his way through the Maritime provinces various news media were picking up the story – it was gaining some more momentum as he made his way through the maritime provinces. Finally, once he hit the Ontario border and arrived in Ottawa for Canada Day, that’s really where the momentum was bursting through the roof. It was amazing,” explained Fox.

Terry was 18 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which would cause the amputation of his right leg. Going through treatment, he saw the impacts of cancer and the benefits of research.

Terry saw “we’ll all be touched in cancer some way,” said Fox. “We may not get it personally: it could be a family member, a neighbour on your street. This is why Terry felt it was so important. If we are in a room and ask who has been affected by cancer pretty much all of the people will raise their hands.”

Although, this years walk may look different, it is important to continue to spread Terry’s message and vision, he said.  More information can be found online.

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