The Heroic Terry Fox: Honouring His Life and Legacy

Three decades ago, Terry Fox's run through Canada touched the heart of a nation—and sparked an international effort to find a cure for cancer.

Aug 23, 2010
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Terry Fox signs a poster promoting his run as Isadore Sharp looks on.
Terry Fox signs a poster promoting his run as Isadore Sharp looks on.
Photography courtesy Terry Fox Foundation
Terry Fox on his run through Canada in 1980.
Terry Fox on his run through Canada in 1980.
Photography Ed Linkewich
A Terry Fox Run in 1983 on Ottawa's Parliament Hill attracted a large crowd.
A Terry Fox Run in 1983 on Ottawa's Parliament Hill attracted a large crowd.
Photography courtesy of Terry Fox Foundation
A happy soldier stands behind a banner commemorating a Terry Fox Run at Base Kandahar in Afghanistan.
A happy soldier stands behind a banner commemorating a Terry Fox Run at Base Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Photography courtesy Terry Fox Foundation
Nuns in Ireland enjoy the camaraderie that is often a part of Terry Fox Runs.
Nuns in Ireland enjoy the camaraderie that is often a part of Terry Fox Runs.
Photography courtesy of Terry Fox Foundation
Soldiers lead a Terry Fox Run with flags and banners as more than 7,000 participants pass through Tiananmen Square in 2000.
Soldiers lead a Terry Fox Run with flags and banners as more than 7,000 participants pass through Tiananmen Square in 2000.
Photography courtesy Terry Fox Foundation

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has a strong commitment to the advancement of cancer research, and much of the company’s devotion to this important cause stems from Terry Fox’s “Marathon of Hope,” which marks its 30th anniversary this year.

Back in 1980, like most Canadians, Isadore Sharp, founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The evening news was carrying stories about a young one-legged cancer survivor who was planning to run the entire length of Canada to raise money and awareness to fight cancer. Sharp was intrigued.

“When Terry announced what he was going to do and set out, it sounded impossible, an impossible journey,” recalls Sharp. “To walk across Canada is one thing, but to run it, and on one leg? At first I thought: When he comes to a city where we have a Hotel, we’ll help him out, give him a place to sleep and a good meal. I had someone follow his progress to see how it would play out, and she reported back with tears in her eyes that he was serious but it was sad that people weren’t taking him seriously, so I decided right then to do something to give him a jump start.”

Rallying Behind the Cause

Just three years earlier, Terry Fox had been a happy and athletic 18-year-old living outside of Vancouver.

But almost overnight, his world turned upside down when he was diagnosed with bone cancer (osteogenic sarcoma) and had his leg amputated. Amazingly, instead of self-pity, Fox found inspiration in his suffering, and that of his fellow hospital cancer patients, vowing to devote all of his energy to raising money for cancer research. His goal was CDN$24 million, $1 for every Canadian man, woman and child. To do this, Fox would run the whole of Canada, dubbing it the “Marathon of Hope.”

When Sharp interceded, things were not looking good. “We put together a newspaper ad saying that we at Four Seasons would donate two dollars for every mile Terry ran, and that would come to $10,000, and we invited 999 others to join us and raise $10 million.”

Before long, his extraordinary undertaking captured the hearts of the Canadian people as nothing else ever had, turning Fox into a hero. The press and public followed his every move, and spectators lined his route daily. Today it is hard to imagine how popular Fox’s run was: At 22 he became the youngest person ever awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada, and shortly thereafter received British Columbia’s highest civilian honour, the Order of the Dogwood, as well as the American Cancer Society’s Sword of Hope. In both 1980 and 1981 he was voted Canadian of the Year by the Canadian Press.

When Sharp took out that newspaper ad, he had no idea it would begin a close relationship with Fox, his family and his vision, a relationship that is thriving 30 years later. Sadly, the Marathon of Hope did not have a happy ending. With a prosthetic leg, Fox ran on average nearly a daily marathon for 143 straight days and 3,339 miles, until September 1, 1980, when the cancer returned, this time in his lungs, and he stopped in Ontario. He died the following summer at age 22, but while he never reached the coast, he reached deeply into the hearts of millions across Canada and around the world.

On September 2, the day after Terry had to stop, Sharp sent the Fox family a telegram pledging to organise an annual fund-raising run in Terry’s name, writing, “You started it. We will not rest until your dream to find a cure for cancer is realised.” In the past three decades, more than $500 million has been raised to fight cancer, and annual Terry Fox runs continue to grow in popularity. On Terry Fox Run Day, hundreds of runs are held throughout Canada, and throughout the year events are held in more than 50 other nations.

Terry’s Legacy Continues

Today, the non-profit Terry Fox Foundation oversees the Terry Fox Run, as well as the National School Run Day, the National Terry Fox Works Day and the Terry Fox Research Institute. Close to $20 million is spent by the Foundation on discovery-based research in Canada each year, plus millions more overseas.

Judith Fox-Alder, Fox’s sister, helps organise worldwide runs, and one policy of the Foundation is to spend its money on research, not travel, so she is thankful that Four Seasons has been able to help her as she puts together runs in places like Egypt and Mumbai. “We stayed at the Four Seasons on these trips,” says Fox-Alder. “Four Seasons hotels have been one of the largest contributors to the runs outside of Canada, along with our embassies and military, and Mr. Sharp has been an integral part of the Foundation, giving advice to my mom and me, all through the years,” she adds.

The Terry Fox Research Institute vets and approves foreign research projects, and 95% of all funds raised in international runs stay in their host country. That’s one reason runs have been equally popular in first-world and emerging countries—all share the need to combat cancer. In many cases, celebrities join in. Efforts like these have been growing every year, and as hundreds of thousands of people continue to participate, there is no end in sight. As Terry Fox was fond of saying, “If you’ve given a dollar, you are part of the Marathon of Hope.”

For more information, visit the Terry Fox Foundation.


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