Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympics: Day 9- Who's Terry Fox?

Today, let's rewind all the way back to the Opening Ceremony.

No, no, we already talked about the cauldron. Back up a bit further to when the Olympic Flag was brought in. Eight Canadians were selected to help carry the flag into BC place, among them Donald Sutherland, Bobby Orr, and Jacques Villeneuve.

Also among them: Betty Fox, mother of one Terry Fox of Winnipeg. If you're American, this was likely just some random footnote, some guy you've never heard of. In fact, Meredith Vieira confused him with Michael J. Fox.

If you're Canadian, though, there's a good chance you either welled up or commenced with a standing ovation. On the Penny Arcade boards during the Ceremony, I was hearing speculation that the final torchbearer might be not just Betty, but a Terry Fox hologram.

So who's Terry Fox?

In 1977, Fox lost his right leg to a form of cancer called osteosarcoma; it was amputated to keep the cancer from spreading. This was not a good thing for a man who would participate in just about any sport you placed in front of him. Track, swimming, basketball, baseball, soccer, rugby, it was sports. After losing the leg, Fox wanted to keep participating in sports, but as an amputee, competitve sports would be a problem.

The solution: run solo. In fact, not just run solo, but run coast-to-coast across Canada. And while he was at it, raise money for cancer research. He called it the Marathon of Hope, with the goal of raising $1 (Canadian dollars, of course) from every Canadian citizen.

At the time, in addition to the amputated leg, Fox had a heart condition, left ventricular hypertrophy, or 'athlete's heart', carrying symptoms of dizzy spells, double vision and shortness of breath. Long story short, Fox's doctor warned him that with the kind of stress his heart would be under during the Marathon of Hope, he might not complete the run and in fact die trying. Fox's response was, he's already got those symptoms anyway, so why not.

So with a bad heart and a different leg than he started life with, Fox set off applying for sponsors to help pay for the run (which he promptly got, though he turned down unsolicited endorsements; they would detract from the goal of public awareness) and set off for St. John's, Newfoundland.

On April 12, 1980, Fox dipped his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean, with the intent of dipping it into the Pacific Ocean once he arrived at his destination of Victoria, British Columbia (not far from Vancouver). He also took two bottles of Atlantic Ocean water- one to keep, one to pour into the Pacific. His intended pace was a standard marathon every day- 26.2 miles. Every day. Across Canada. With the entire country cheering him every step of the way, recieving a hero's welcome when he entered Ontario.

He would not make it.

On September 1, Day 143, near Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fox was forced to stop. The cancer had returned, and progressed to his lungs. His right lung had a tumor the size of a golf ball; his left lung had one the size of a lemon. He had run 3,339 miles at a pace of 23.3 miles per day, just short of half of his goal.

It was enough for Canada.

On September 9, CTV organized a telethon on Fox's behalf; they raised $10.5 million CAD in one day. It was only the start; by February 1981 Canadians had raised $24.17 million CAD- which, by the way, would meet Fox's goal of $1 per Canadian.

Fox would live to see it, but not by much; the cancer claimed him on June 28th, at the age of 22.

Every year since, a Terry Fox Run is held in various locations around the world; to date nearly $500 million CAD has been raised in his name. If you'd like to add to that, head on over. Fox has been awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada, the Order of the Dogwood, Canadian of the Year, Canadian of the Decade, and when CBC ran a TV special, The Greatest Canadian, Fox placed second, behind only Tommy Douglas, and conspiracy theories exist as to why Douglas beat Fox.

In case you're wondering, Wayne Gretzky placed 10th, just behind Alexander Graham Bell, who in turn placed two spots below Don Cherry, commentator for Hockey Night In Canada.

On the 25th anniversary of the Marathon, Canada introduced a one-dollar coin honoring the run.

And you will see Fox's name again in these Games. The Terry Fox Award will be handed out on Day 16, next Saturday, to be awarded to "someone who is the epitome of determination in motion, who pushed on no matter what the pain or obstacles in their path and touched Canada and the world by displaying humility and selflessness in their treatment of others both on and off the field of play – a veritable hero.”

You will also see Fox on ESPN; as part of their 30 For 30 series, Steve Nash will narrate the documentary Into The Wind.

Oh, and one more thing.

Steve Fonyo, a man from Montreal who lost his left leg to cancer at age 12, was inspired by Fox, taking note of the fact that Fox had to stop near Thunder Bay. He resolved to finish the job Fox started, and over the course of 14 months, from March 31, 1984 to May 29, 1985, Fonyo completed the Journey For Lives, running the same St. John's-to-Victoria route. He was originally called a copycat, and ran in Fox's shadow, but once he made it past Thunder Bay, he won his own amount of respect, eventually raising $13 million CAD, and was awarded an Order of Canada of his own later in 1985. However, he would have it revoked in 2009 after it turned out that, run or no run, he was no Terry Fox; he battled a cocaine addiction and was convicted on a series of charges including impaired driving, driving without a license, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, writing bad checks, violating probation, and violating parole.

1 comment:

Vivian L said...

I watched Terry Fox on part of his run through Ontario. He was a true Canadian hero. Canadians don't generally have heroes, but they couldn't help themselves. Terry Fox was amazing!