Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was only 18 years old. After encountering children in the hospital cancer unit, he decided to become an activist for cancer research. He decided to run across Canada in his Marathon of Hope, according to the Terry Fox Foundation. Tragically, on his run, he learned he had cancer in his lungs. He died one year later at age 22. An archived video from 1981 shows Fox on his Marathon of Hope and in an interview with CBC. Watch the full interview here.
Today, his legacy lives on in the annual the Terry Fox Run, which will be held virtually this year on Sunday, September 20, 2020.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Terry Fox Read About Dick Traum, a Runner & Amputee, on the Night Before His Surgery to Remove a Portion of His Leg
Terry Fox remained hopeful and optimistic even on the eve of his surgery to have a portion of his right leg removed, according to the Terry Fox Foundation. The Winnipeg, Manitoba teen was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his right leg when he was 18 years old on March 9, 1977. The night before his surgery was scheduled, he read about runner and amputee, Dick Traum, and dreamed about running also. Traum was the first amputee to complete the New York Marathon. His former basketball coach brought him the magazine about Traum, Fox wrote in a piece published on Race Roster.
Fox’s leg was amputated about six inches above his knee. While he was in the hospital, he saw children suffering from cancer and his mission became defined, according to 9 to 5 Google.
“I soon realized that that would only be half my quest, for as I went through the 16 months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, I was rudely awakened by the feelings that surrounded and coursed through the cancer clinic,” Fox wrote. “There were faces with the brave smiles, and the ones who had given up smiling. There were feelings of hopeful denial, and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop….and I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause.”
2. Fox Was Determined to Run Across Canada in His Marathon of Hope to Raise Funds for Cancer Research
Less than two years after his surgery to amputate his leg above his knee, Fox began training for the Marathon of Hope. His run across Canada was designed to raise funds for cancer research. He began the race in St. John’s, Newfoundland. At the beginning of his journey, on April 12, 1980, he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the Terry Fox Foundation.
His plan was to run across Canada from east to west. Fox ran an average of 26 miles a day through six provinces. His brother and a friend gave him support, staying nearby in a van, according to 9 to 5 Google.
He had a goal of raising $1 for every Canadian. That goal was achieved on February 1, 1981, just four months before he died. It was at that point that $24.17 million was raised for cancer research. At the time, Canada had a population of 24.1 people.
3. Fox’s Run Across Canada Was Cut Short When He Experienced Pain in his Chest & Learned He Had Cancer in His Lungs
Fox was running across Canada during his Marathon of Hope when he stopped due to pain in his chest and difficulty breathing. He was 143 days into the race and had run 3,393 miles. He was in Thunder Bay when the pain forced him to stop on April 1, 1980, according to the Terry Fox Foundation.
He ran 18 miles that day before stopping, he said in a 1981 video interview with CBC.
Fox was tearful in his interview with reporters, announcing his cancer had spread.
“Now I’ve got cancer in my lungs,” he said.
His resolve returned moments later.
“All I can say is, if there’s anyway I can get up there again and finish it, I will,” he said.
He returned to British Columbia for treatment. Fox was treated with chemotherapy and other medical treatments. Tragically, he never returned to the race. At age 22, he died on June 28, 1981, at Royal Columbian Hospital, New Westminster, British Columbia, just one month shy of his 23rd birthday.
4. Fox Learned Before His Death a Marathon of Hope Would Be Held in His Honor & It Continues Today
After his marathon was cut short, fundraising events were held in his honor that maximized his efforts. The money raised quickly increased from $1 million to $23 million, 9 to 5 Google reported.
“Even though I’m not running anymore, we’ve still got to try and find a cure for cancer,” he said in his 1981 interview with CBC. “And I think other people should get ahead and try to do their thing now.”
While he was undergoing treatment, his family received a telegram from Isadore Sharp, Chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, according the the Terry Fox Foundation. The telegram detailed a commitment to organize a fundraising run in Fox’s name.
“You started it,” it said. “We will not rest until your dream to find a cure for cancer is realized.”
CTV, a Canadian TV network, organized a telethon for Fox which raised $10 million in five hours, his foundation reported.
5. The 2020 Terry Fox Run Will Be Held Virtually & His Foundation Has Raised $800 Million for Cancer Research
Fox’s Marathon of Hope, also called the Terry Fox Run, has been held year after year as thousands of people across the globe finish the race that Fox started. As of April 2020, The Terry Fox Foundation has raised more than $800 million for cancer research, according to its website.
Fox spoke to CBC and other reporters from a stretcher shortly after he learned cancer spread to his lungs. He announced the new diagnosis, and said he would have to discontinue his race and go through treatment. Fox said in the interview he hoped that other people would continue what he started.
“I hope that what I’ve done has been an inspiration, and I hope I will see it now – that people will take off and continue where I left off here,” he said.