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Terry Fox: Inspirational Cancer Survivor and Amputee Who Ran Across Canada

Updated on September 5, 2017
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Terry Fox running across Canada
Terry Fox running across Canada

Terry Fox was a Canadian athlete. After experiencing cancer treatment, he was overwhelmed with what it did to people and wanted to help. When he was in high school, Fox was known for playing basketball as well as being a top soccer player. Fox also played rugby. He prided himself on his mental toughness. Fox believed he developed this as he ran cross-country races in school and from the many hours he spent practicing sports. He put his mental toughness to the test when he ran across Canada.

Early Years

On July 28, 1958, Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. He had an older brother named Fred as well as a younger sister named Judith, and a younger brother named Darrell. His parents taught their children how to be completely dedicated to whatever it was they were attempting. A physical education teacher at his junior high school recommended Fox attempt long distance running. Fox took up the sport to please his coach but preferred to play basketball ball even if he was a substitute on the team. He eventually became a starter. Fox shared an Athlete of the Year award with a friend during his senior year of high school. After graduating, he went on to attend Simon Fraser University.

Terry Fox in High School
Terry Fox in High School

Cancer Diagnosis

Terry Fox was driving to his family's home when was distracted by some bridge construction occurring near him. This resulted in him hitting the back of a pickup truck. The car Fox drove was totaled, but he got out of the accident with only a sore right knee. This was on November 12, 1976. His knee began hurting again in December of that year, but Fox decided to ignore it because he wanted to finish playing basketball for the season. During March of 1977, the pain in his knee had become intense, and Fox decided to see a doctor about it. This was when he was diagnosed with a form of cancer known as osteosarcoma. Fox was told his right leg would have to be amputated, and he would need to receive chemotherapy. He was told with this form of cancer; he had a 50 percent chance of survival.

Treatment

Terry Fox was fitted with an artificial leg and able to walk a few weeks after his right leg was amputated. He worked hard and was eventually able to play golf with his father. Physicians believed Fox's positive attitude significantly contributed to his quick recovery. He also experienced sixteen months of chemotherapy. During his cancer treatments, Fox was shocked by seeing other cancer patients suffer and die. This is when he felt determined spend his life helping others find the courage to fight cancer.

Running

The day prior to his surgery, Fox was given an article about runner Dick Traum, which inspired him. Traum was the first amputee to run the entire New York City Marathon. Reading this article motivated Fox to start a training program. He told his family he intended to run a marathon. Fox was upset at how little money was dedicated to doing research on a cure for cancer. This is when he had the idea to run the length of Canada to raise money for cancer research. Fox hoped this would raise awareness of the importance of cancer research. He initially only told one friend about his dream.

Terry Fox
Terry Fox

Marathon Training

Fox quickly learned that when he was running, he had to hop-step on his good leg. This was necessary because of the springs in his artificial leg. It took extra time for his artificial leg to reset. This resulted in him having an unusual gait. It made the training painful and caused additional pressure to be put on his good leg, as well as the stump where his right leg had been amputated. Fox experienced intense pain from bone bruises, blisters and more. He quickly learned that 20 minutes into every run, his pain threshold was crossed, and then the running became easier. Fox completed a 17-mile road race in 1979. It took place at Prince George, British Columbia. He came in last. Fox was ten minutes slower than his closest competitor. He still considered it a type of victory. The crowd watching Fox run, as well as other runners, would applaud him. Many people were touched by his courage to run the race.

Terry Fox during Canada run
Terry Fox during Canada run

Canada Run

Once Fox completed the Prince George run, he told his family about his plans to run across Canada as a way to promote cancer awareness and research. Initially, his mother tried to talk him out of doing it. She later changed her mind and gave him her total support. His goal was to raise over a million dollars for his cause.

Canadian Cancer Society

Fox contacted the Canadian Cancer Society during October of 1979. He explained his goal for running across Canada and asked for funding. Fox told them how he would conquer his disability. He also provided details of how he was motivated to raise money for cancer research and told them about his own experiences with cancer treatments. Fox never promised he'd succeed; he promised he would run until he was no longer able to run or finished going the distance. The Canadian Cancer Society had its doubts about his decision but agreed to provide its support. The next step was to get supporters and the necessary medical certificate from a heart specialist. During his medical exam, it was discovered he had an enlarged heart. This is a common condition among athletes.

Corporate Sponsors

After getting the support of the Canadian Cancer Society, and being cleared to make the run, Fox tried to get corporate sponsors. He was provided with running shoes, a camper van, fuel for the van and more from the sponsors he contacted. Any corporate donor who wanted his endorsement for their product was turned away. The costs associated with his run were eventually covered by corporate donations.

People running with Terry Fox during run across Canada
People running with Terry Fox during run across Canada

Run Across Canada

Fox placed his leg in the Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland on April 12, 1980, as the symbol of beginning his run across Canada. The first day of his run, Fox experienced heavy rain, gale-force winds as well as a snowstorm. He got little attention at the beginning of the run. When Fox arrived at a town called Port aux Basque in Newfoundland, the 11,000 residents provided him with more than $9,000 in donations. When he made it to Quebec, Fox and members of his support group were frustrated by their inability to speak French, but still were able to get donations. By the time Fox had made it to Montreal in June, he was a third of the way finished with his run and had collected more than $200,000 in donations. The CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts was Isadore Sharp. He was impressed by the story of Terry Fox. Sharp agreed to pay $2 for each mile ran by Fox and encouraged over 975 corporations to make similar financial pledges.

Success

When Fox ran into Toronto, he was greeted by thousands of people cheering him. Many people joined him for the run including National Hockey League star Darryl Sittler. It is estimated he collected over $100,000 in donations during just that one day. As he continued to run, Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr caught up with Fox. He gave him a check for $25,000 for cancer research.

Terry Fox at Press Conference
Terry Fox at Press Conference

Cancer Returns

The physical demands of running a daily marathon began to wear down Fox's body. He frequently experienced an inflamed knee as well as shin splints. Fox developed cysts on his stump and was having frequent dizzy spells. He also had soreness in his ankle that would not go away. One day, he struggled to run and experienced shortness of breath and chest pain. Fox was immediately taken to a hospital. A day later, he held a press conference. Terry Fox announced his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He would have to end the run. He had succeeded in raising over $1.6 million for cancer research.

Death

During the following months, Fox was given a variety of chemotherapy treatments. His cancer continued to spread. Fox had gained international attention for his run, and Pope John Paul II sent a telegram about praying for him. He suffered a bad reaction to interferon treatments. Fox was admitted to the Royal Columbian Hospital during June of 1981. He went into a coma and passed away on June 28, 1981.

Statute of Terry Fox
Statute of Terry Fox

Canadian Hero

Terry Fox is still a popular figure in Canadian history. His determination united Canadians from all walks of life. His run attempt is considered an inspirational feat. Canadians voted him one of Canada's greatest heroes. Fox is considered a regular person who attempted something remarkable to help others battling a disease that eventually took his life.

Documentary on Terry Fox

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

      One of the most inspiring and sad stories of all time.