'Someday his dream will come true': How Terry Fox continues to inspire a nation 40 years later

Four decades after the first Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox continues to be an inspiration for Canadians.

Terry Fox was born in 1958, son of Betty and Rolly Fox, he was one of four children. His older brother Fred Fox says Terry was always determined from a young age.

“We kind of saw it in all kinds of things, he was very competitive and didn’t like to lose. Our parents always taught you finish what you start and you work hard,” Fred says.

Terry enjoyed sports, and basketball became his passion. He got a spot on the varsity basketball team at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Unfortunately, in 1977 at the age of 18 he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Terry was told he was going to have to lose his right leg in four days and go through chemotherapy for a year-and-a-half,” says Fred. “It was a shock and being 18 years old, as Terry was, I can’t imagine what he was feeling.”

Terry’s determination kicked in and two years after losing his right leg he started training to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

“Our mom got upset, being a protective mom, and kind of yelled at him and said why would you do a crazy thing like that? Run through BC and raise money that way, and Terry’s answer was, ‘Mom, not only people in BC get cancer. People across Canada do.’”

Terry started his Marathon of Hope on April 12, 1980 in St. John, NL where he dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean before beginning his run.

“It was 40 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday,” says St. Thomas-native Bill Vigars. “In my position my boss came to me and said, 'There’s a young man running across Canada with one leg.' And that’s how I got involved.”

Vigars, who worked for the Canadian Cancer Society at the time, met Terry Fox in New Brunswick. He became Terry’s campaign manager, and he says he will never forget joining Terry’s team and seeing him run.

“It was the very first morning we were driving out into the darkness on the Trans Canada, which was basically a two-lane highway, and I watched him out of the mirror coming out of the darkness with the silhouette of the truck coming behind him and it was a riveting moment for me.”

It’s that moment of seeing Terry run for the first time that also stuck with his brother Fred.

“I only saw Terry running from the footage on TV, I never saw him run in person until I saw him run in Toronto and it’s one of those things I will never forget.”

Throughout his run, Terry inspired people from coast to coast. From professional athletes, to cancer patients and their families. His artificial leg was not meant for running, so it caused him pain during his run, but no matter how tired or sore, he pushed on.

“Terry was so determined, even if one of us has suggested maybe you should take a break and take it easy or not run anymore, he was going to do it anyways,” says Fred.

Running a marathon a day may seem impossible to many, but Vigars says Terry had a way of not getting too overwhelmed.

“When people would say, 'How do you do it?' He would say, 'I run from one telephone pole to the next telephone pole because If I thought about running across Canada I couldn’t do it.'”

Unfortunately his run came to an end on Sept. 1, 1980 in Thunder Bay. Terry, who had started coughing earlier on his journey, was rushed to hospital where it was discovered the cancer had moved to his lungs.


Terry Fox, who lost his right leg to cancer three years earlier, was forced to stop his cross-Canada marathon to raise funds for cancer research in Thunder Bay, Ont., Sept. 2, 1980. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It was a heart-breaking moment for Terry and his family, but it was also the moment a nation pulled together to fulfill his dreams

“Even though September the first was the end of his physical run. It was the beginning of Canada’s run,” says Vigars.

Terry inspired the nation and many in London, Ont. From street signs, to a memorial, even a parkway being named after him, signs and memories of Terry Fox are strong in the Forest City.

“It was phenomenal the reception we got in London,” says Vigars.

Terry ran into London on July 17, 1980 and was greeted by the second-largest reception he would receive during his Marathon of Hope.

“Dundas Street East, where that curve section is, there were 10 people deep on either side,” says Vigars. “My brother organized 50 people to run behind him, he was a track coach at Western [University].”

Once Terry hit Victoria Park, he was greeted by a large crowd that filled each corner of the downtown green space.

“The city was ignited, it was absolutely ignited, and he stole the heart of London,” says Lori Lee, the daughter of the late Ron Calhoun.

Calhoun was the national coordinator for the Marathon of Hope. He’s also the one who coined the phrase Marathon of Hope for the event.

“It’s Terry’s Marathon of Hope, it’s Terry’s team’s Marathon of Hope, but really life can be a marathon of hope and I think really that’s the underlying message that there is hope,” says Lee, who was 16 years old when she met Terry.

He stayed at their family home in Thamesford, Ont. and Lee remembers when Terry hit the road to London and she and her family got to run with him.

“I could see his silhouette come over the peak of the hill as the sun was starting to rise behind him and I could see the cherries of the police car in the silhouette as well and it was beautiful.”

Forty years later and that memory still holds strong for Lee, but also for many others who were inspired when they saw Terry run.

“I had seen him, and I was at Argyle Mall and he shuffled along and I got teared up and thought wow that’s amazing,” says Keith Tapp.

Tapp was so inspired by seeing Terry run, that he has now run in each and every Marathon of Hope in the Forest City since 1981.

“When they decided they were going to have a run I said to myself, Keith, he did this on one leg, you have two legs, you can train and do this, so we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Tapp, who’s 75, says he will continue to run for as long as he can and will be running in this year's Marathon of Hope on Sept. 20.

Due to COVID-19, this year's marathon will be different than any other, it will be virtual.

However, Vigars says it just shows how much Terry’s influence holds strong when it comes to continuing his dream for cancer research.

“His dream continues and there have been massive advances in cancer research and someday his dream will come true and we will get rid of cancer, I truly believe that.”

Join Now!

Get the latest information right into your inbox.