Terry Fox – Rewire Hero of the Week

“I want to try the impossible to show it can be done.”

Terry Fox

Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1958. Terry wasn’t a naturally gifted sportsman but at both school and university he was successful in sport as a result of determination and hard work. He believed that the key to his success was his mental toughness.

At the age of eighteen Terry discovered he had a malignant tumour in his right leg and the leg was amputated 15 centimetres above the knee. The night before his operation, his high school basketball coach brought him a running magazine which featured an article about an amputee, Dick Traum, who had run in the New York City Marathon.  Although his future was never more precarious, Terry dreamed that night about running across Canada. “I’m competitive,” Terry said. “I’m a dreamer. I like challenges. I don’t give up. When I decided to do it, I knew I was going to go all out. There was no in-between.”

His dream defied logic and common sense and evolved into the “Marathon of Hope” – a sponsored run across Canada to raise money to help fight cancer. 

Two years after his operation, Terry started a running program initially in the dark, so no one could see him. Terry trained for 15 months, running 3,159 miles, running until his stump was raw and bleeding, running every day for 101 days, until he could run 23 miles a day. He took one day off at Christmas, only because his mother asked him. Once, just before Christmas, when he had run only a half mile, the bottom half of his artificial leg snapped in two pieces, and Terry crashed to the pavement. He picked up the two parts, tucked them under his arm, stuck out his thumb and hitch-hiked home. There, he clamped the two parts together and ran another five miles.

Throughout his run and in the months before, Terry had neglected his medical appointments. No one could force him to see a doctor for a check-up. He said he didn’t believe the cancer would come back.  On April 12, 1980, Terry dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean at St John’s, Newfoundland and began his Marathon of Hope. He ran through ice storms and summer heat, against bitter winds of such velocity he couldn’t move. Terry knew how to cope with pain – he would run through it and simply keep going until the pain went away. By September 1, 1980 Terry had run 3,339 miles through six Canadian provinces and was two-thirds of the way home. He’d run close to a marathon a day, for 143 days. No mean achievement for an able-bodied runner, an extraordinary feat for an amputee.

After running 18 miles on this day Terry started coughing and felt pain in his chest.  The pain did not stop and Terry asked to be taken to hospital where doctors told him the cancer had spread from his legs to his lungs.

Terry died aged 22 on June 28, 1981. Before he died donations to his Marathon of Hope reached $23.4 million and The Guinness Book of Records named him top fundraiser.

People haven’t forgotten Terry and every year millions of people participate in Terry Fox runs and fund raising events. In April 2020 the Terry Fox Foundation announced that over $800 million has been raised to support cancer research in his name.

“Anything is possible if you try” 

Terry Fox

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Photo Credits: “Terry Fox along North Park St” by Ross Dunn is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0