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Terry Fox

A young man with short, curly hair and an artificial right leg runs down a street. He wears shorts and a T-shirt that reads "Marathon of Hope"
Terry Fox in Toronto during his Marathon of Hope cross-country run (July 1980)
Terrance Stanley Fox

(1958-07-28)July 28, 1958
Died June 28, 1981(1981-06-28) (aged 22)
Cause of death Metastatic osteosarcoma
Education Simon Fraser University
Known for Marathon of Hope
Title Companion of the Order of Canada

Terrance Stanley Fox (July 28, 1958 - June 28, 1981) was a Canadian athlete and activist. He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He lost one of his legs due to bone cancer when he was 18. He is best known for his run, called The Marathon of Hope, which began on April 12, 1980, in St. John's, Newfoundland. The purpose of the run was to run across Canada (with help of an artificial leg) about 26 miles (42 km) (the length of the average marathon) each day. He originally wanted to run until he got to Vancouver Island on the other end of Canada. The goal was to raise 1 million Canadian dollars and later one dollar for every person in Canada to help cancer research.

Many people supported and helped him during his run, but on August 31, 1980, near the town of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fox's cancer spread to his lungs. He had to stop running.

Fox died on June 28, 1981(1981-06-28) (aged 22), a month before his 23rd birthday, in New Westminster, British Columbia (BC). In Canada, he is considered a hero. People still hold runs for him. In addition, there is a statue of him in Ottawa (Canada's capital city), near Parliament Hill.

Early life and cancer

Terry Fox was born on July 28, 1958, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Rolland and Betty Fox. Rolland was a switchman for the Canadian National Railway. Terry had an older brother, Fred, a younger brother, Darrell, and a younger sister, Judith.

His family moved to Surrey, British Columbia, in 1966, then settled in Port Coquitlam, in 1968. His parents were dedicated to their family, and it was from them that he received his grit and determination.

Terry played soccer, rugby, and baseball as a child. Though he enjoyed basketball the most, he was not good at the sport. Bob McGill, his physical education teacher and basketball coach in junior high school encouraged him to begin distance running. While he ran, Terry kept practicing basketball and in his senior year, he and his friend Doug Alward won the athlete of the year award.

Though he was not sure if he wanted to go to college, Fox's mother convinced him to enroll at Simon Fraser University, where he studied kinesiology. He wanted to become a physical education teacher. He tried out for the junior varsity basketball team, earning a spot ahead of more talented players because of his determination.

Fox's favorite prosthetic leg that he used during his Marathon of Hope

On November 12, 1976, as Fox was driving to the family home at Morrill Street in Port Coquitlam, he became distracted by nearby bridge construction and crashed into the back of a pickup truck. Even though his car was wrecked, Fox only had a sore right knee. He again felt pain in December but chose to ignore it until the end of basketball season. By March 1977, the pain had become so bad that he went to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that often starts near the knees. He was told that his leg had to be amputated, he would require chemotherapy treatment, and that recent medical advances meant he had a 50-percent chance of survival. Fox learned that two years before, the chance of survival had been only 15 percent. The improvement in survival rates showed him the value of cancer research.

With the help of an artificial leg and his determination, Fox was walking three weeks after the amputation. During his sixteen months of chemotherapy in the British Columbia Cancer Control Agency facility, he found it difficult as he watched fellow cancer patients suffer and die from the disease. Fox felt he owed his survival to medical advances and wanted to help other cancer patients find courage.

Marathon of Hope

Terry Fox Denkmal
Terry Fox statue in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, British Columbia

Fox read an article about Dick Traum the night before his cancer surgery. Traum was the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon. Terry determined that he was going to run to help cancer patients. He told his family that he planned to complete a marathon to raise money for cancer research. He really intended to run the length of Canada. He began a 14-month training program as soon as he could.

Because of his artificial leg, Fox ran with an unusual gait. He found the training painful because he had to hop-step on his good leg to give time for the springs in his artificial leg to reset. He developed bone bruises and blisters on his stump. Fox found that after about 20 minutes of each run, he crossed a pain threshold and the run became easier.

On September 2, 1979, Fox competed in a 17-mile road race in Prince George, British Columbia. He finished in last place, but the other participants cheered for him. After the marathon, he told his full plan to his family. Fox originally hoped to raise $1 million, then $10 million, but later aimed to raise $1 for each of Canada's 24 million people.


On October 15, 1979, Fox sent a letter to the Canadian Cancer Society. In it, he told them of his goal of raising money for cancer research and asked for money to get started. He did not promise that his run would lead to a cure for cancer, but he let them know that he believed in miracles.

Fox sent a second letter to several corporations to ask for donations for a vehicle, running shoes, and other costs of the run. He sent other letters asking for grants to buy a running leg. The Ford Motor Company donated a camper van, while Imperial Oil contributed fuel, and Adidas his running shoes. Fox did not accept donations that carried conditions or requests for endorsements. He insisted that nobody was to profit from his run.

Trek across Canada

Marathon of Hope path
Fox's path across eastern Canada. He began at St. John's on the east coast and ran west.

The Marathon began on April 12, 1980, when Fox dipped his right leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John's, Newfoundland, and filled two large bottles with ocean water. He intended to keep one as a souvenir and pour the other into the Pacific Ocean upon completing his journey at Victoria, British Columbia. Fox was supported on his run by Doug Alward, who drove the van and cooked meals.

In the first days of his run, Fox endured gale-force winds, heavy rain, and a snowstorm. When he arrived in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, the town's 10,000 residents presented him with a donation of over $10,000. Fox encountered more hardships, one of which was arguing with Alward. By the time that had reached Nova Scotia, the two were barely on speaking terms. Terry arranged for his brother Darrell, then 17, to join them.

Fox arrived in Montreal on June 22, one-third of the way through his 5,000-mile (8,000 km) journey, having collected over $200,000 in donations. Around this time, Terry Fox's run caught the attention of Isadore Sharp who was the founder and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. He had lost a son to melanoma in 1978. Sharp offered food and lodging at his hotels on the route. When Terry became discouraged with the lack of donations for his goal, Sharp pledged (promised to pay) $2 a mile to the run and convinced close to 1,000 other corporations to do the same. Terry planned to arrive in Ottawa for Canada Day because it would help fundraising efforts, so he remained in Montreal for a few extra days.

Terry Fox memorial, St. John's
Memorial at Mile 0 in St. John's

Fox crossed into Ontario at the town of Hawkesbury on the last Saturday in June. Here he began to be more encouraged by the excitement and encouragement of other Canadians. He continued to run 26 miles (42 km) per day.

On July 11, a crowd of 10,000 people met Fox in Toronto, where he was honored in Nathan Phillips Square. The Cancer Society estimated it collected $100,000 in donations that day alone.

The physical demands of running a marathon every day took their toll on Fox's body. Apart from the rest days in Montreal taken at the request of the Cancer Society, he refused to take a day off, even on his 22nd birthday. He often suffered shin splints and an inflamed knee. He developed cysts on his stump and experienced dizzy spells. At one point, he suffered soreness in his ankle that would not go away. Although he feared he had developed a stress fracture, he ran for three more days before seeking medical attention and was then relieved to learn it was tendonitis and could be treated with painkillers. Fox rejected calls for him to seek regular medical checkups and ignored suggestions he was risking his future health.

On September 1, outside Thunder Bay, he was forced to stop briefly after he suffered an intense coughing fit and experienced pains in his chest. Unsure what to do, he continued running as the crowds along the highway shouted out their encouragement. A few miles later, short of breath and with continued chest pain, he asked Alward to drive him to a hospital. He feared immediately that he had run his last kilometer. The next day, Fox held a tearful press conference during which he announced that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He was forced to end his run after 143 days and 3,339 miles (5,374 km). People offered to run the rest of the race in Fox's place, but he refused. He said that he wanted to complete his marathon himself.


In the following months, Fox received many chemotherapy treatments; however, the disease continued to spread. He was re-admitted to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster on June 19, 1981, with chest congestion and pneumonia. He 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, a rare honor that was usually reserved for respected political leaders. His funeral in Port Coquitlam was attended by 40 relatives and 200 guests, and broadcast on national television. Hundreds of communities across Canada also held memorial services. Canadians again flooded Cancer Society offices with donations.


Terry Fox Run Milan
Participants of the 2007 Terry Fox Run in Milan, Italy

Fox remains a hero to Canadians. His determination united the nation. He was an ordinary person reaching for an extraordinary goal. He has been compared to a classic hero, Phidippides, the runner who delivered the news of the Battle of Marathon before dying.

In September 2013, Dr. Jay Wunder, a sarcoma specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, said that survival rates for osteosarcoma have increased dramatically since Fox's death.

Terry Fox quotes

  • "I just wish people would realize that anything's possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try."
  • "I want to try the impossible to show that it can be done."
  • "It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live. The answer is to try and help others."
  • "I bet some of you feel sorry for me. Well don't. Having an artificial leg has its advantages. I've broken my right knee many times and it doesn't hurt a bit."
  • "I remember promising myself that should I live I would prove myself deserving of life."

Interesting facts about Terry Fox

  • Terry practiced basketball so much that he went from being poor at the sport to a starting player in 10th grade.
  • Terry's maternal grandmother is Métis and Terry's younger brother Darrell has official Métis status.
  • In the Fox household, play fighting was normal.
  • He participated on a wheelchair basketball team and was named an all-star by the North American Wheelchair Basketball Association in 1980.
  • During the Marathon of Hope, Terry would wake up at 4:00 a.m. and begin his run by 5:00 a.m.
  • In his journal, he wrote, "I’d rather run in rain, snow, anything except against the wind."
  • Because of his unusual running gait, Fox never had to replace the shoe on his right prosthetic leg but "ran" through nine shoes with his good left leg.
  • Instead of eating his 22nd birthday cake, Terry began throwing fistfuls of it and sparked a food fight.
  • Shortly before his death, he was made a Companion in the Order of Canada (the youngest person in the country to receive such an honor).
  • The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries.
  • Several schools named after him.
  • He has been featured on a Canadian $1 coin.

Images for kids

See also

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