Whether playing soccer, rugby or baseball, young Fox hated to lose. It was this determination that drove his basketball dreams after he played just a single minute in his eighth-grade season. Working with buddy Doug Alward in the off-season, Fox improved to the point where Alward and Fox shared best athlete honors their senior year at Port Coquitlam (British Columbia) High School.
Fox moved on to Simon Fraser University where he prepared for a career as a physical education teacher by studying kinesiology and playing on the school’s junior varsity basketball team.
But a serious accident on Nov. 12, 1976, totaled his car and left Fox with a banged-up right knee, an injury he ignored until after basketball season ended. In March 1977, Fox finally saw a doctor, who delivered a grim diagnosis: osteogenic sarcoma, bone cancer. Amputation, followed by chemotherapy, doctors said, would give him a 50 percent chance of survival. So, at the age of 18, Fox’s right leg was amputated six inches above the knee.
During his 16 months of chemotherapy in the British Columbia Cancer Control Agency, Fox struggled while witnessing the suffering of fellow cancer patients, many of them young children.
Their courage inspired Fox to decide he would run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. On October 15, 1979, Fox appealed for funding to the Canadian Cancer Society, promising that he would complete his Marathon of Hope, even if he had to “crawl every last mile.”
The Cancer Society agreed to support Fox, if he would line up sponsors and get approval from a heart specialist. He did both and after a few months of training, Fox and longtime friend Alward – who would be Fox’s one-man support crew – arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost city, to begin the Marathon of Hope.
On April 12, 1980, Fox dipped his prosthetic right leg into the Atlantic Ocean, a symbolic gesture he intended to duplicate in the Pacific with his left leg at the conclusion of the run. He then began to run with a distinctive hop-skip gait.
Fox was disappointed with the start of his effort. There was little publicity and few people turned out to greet him. Life in a small van, even with his best friend, proved too much for Fox and Alward, who were barely speaking by the time they reached Nova Scotia. At the suggestion of Fox’s mother, Betty, Fox’s younger brother, Darrell, arrived to mediate.
By the time Fox’s entourage arrived in Montreal – one-third of the way through the 5,000-mile marathon – Fox had raised over $200,000 and found a new supporter in Isadore Sharp, CEO of Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts.
Sharp – who had lost a son to melanoma in 1978 – offered food and accommodations at his hotels the rest of the marathon, pledged $2 a mile and persuaded close to 1,000 other corporations to do the same.
Upon his entry into Ontario, Fox was welcomed by a brass band and an escort by the Ontario Provincial Police. Among those greeting Fox in Ottawa was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
The pressure of fitting an increasing slate of social events into his grueling days on the road wore on Fox. Shin splints. A sore knee. Cysts. Dizzy spells. A throbbing ankle. Still, he pushed on.
By late August, however, exhaustion threatened to overtake the 22-year-old who had by then captured the attention of his countrymen. But near Terrace Bay, Ontario, 10-year-old Greg Scott of Welland, Ontario, got Fox’s attention.
Young Scott, a youth baseball star who had also lost a leg to bone cancer, rode a bicycle about six miles as he followed Fox. Fox wrote in his journal, “It has to be the most inspirational moment I have had! At night we had a beautiful reception in Terrace Bay. I spoke about Greg and couldn't hold back the emotion.”
Fox continued his run but on Sept. 1, he was wracked by a coughing fit just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario. As crowds urged him on, Fox pressed on until the pain in his chest was too much. Alward drove him to a hospital.
The next day he revealed that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. After 143 days and 3,339 miles, he suspended his marathon run until he could return to the road.
Fox had already raised $1.7 million, well short of his goal of $24 million – one dollar for every Canadian. One week after Fox suspended his run, the CTV Canadian Television Network organized a national telethon that raised another $10.5 million. By April 1981, the elusive $24 million figure had been reached.
As Fox began another lengthy regimen of chemotherapy, fans flooded his hometown of Port Coquitlam with letters and cards of support. At one point, more than half the mail received in the city of 27,000 was addressed to Fox.
But Fox’s condition continued to deteriorate. He was re-admitted to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster on June 19, 1981, with chest congestion. He soon developed pneumonia, fell into a coma and died at 4:35 a.m. PDT on June 28, 1981, with his family by his side.
The Government of Canada ordered flags across the country lowered to half staff, an unprecedented honor that was usually reserved for statesmen. His funeral was broadcast on national television.
Fox’s legacy extends well beyond the few months of the Marathon of Hope.
Since 1981, runners in more than 60 countries have participated in the annual Terry Fox Run which has raised nearly $300 million for cancer research.
Dozens of Canadian roads and streets have been named for Fox, including the Terry Fox Courage Highway near Thunder Bay, which also features a statue of the man who was named Canada’s greatest hero in a 1999 national survey.
Dozens of schools, buildings and fitness trails also carry Fox’s name, as does Mount Terry Fox in the Canadian Rockies. A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker – the CCGS Terry Fox—was commissioned in 1983 and a series of bronze sculptures of Fox in motion are outside of BC Place in downtown Vancouver.
But, despite the broad reach and enduring nature of Fox’s influence, he also had a close, intense influence on the young 10-year-old he spent time with in the last week of the Marathon of Hope.
Like Fox, young Greg Scott suffered a relapse of the cancer that first took his leg. At the time of a shared swim in Jackfish Lake, a reporter confided to Fox that Olson’s cancer had spread to the young boy’s lungs.
On Aug. 11, 1981 – six weeks after Terry Fox died – Greg Scott also died. Scott’s father, Rod, said that his son died unafraid and confident “he'd be seeing Terry again.”
Born: July 28, 1958
Died: June 28, 1981