Terry Fox




Fox's "Marathon of Hope" raised money and generated publicity for cancer research.

Following a bone scan on 4 March, 1977 to investigate severe pain in Terry Fox’s right leg, his orthopedic surgeon’s worst suspicions were confirmed – Fox had osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that often starts in the knee. Because the cancer spreads quickly, doctors felt Fox’s best chance for survival was amputating his right leg, followed by chemotherapy.

On 9 March 1977, when Fox was only 18, doctors amputated his right leg 15cm above the knee. The night before his life-changing surgery, Fox read something in Runner’s World magazine that revealed a new path – one that would lead to his place in Canadian history. The article was about Dick Traum, an amputee who had run the New York City Marathon. Fox showed it to a nurse the next morning, saying, “Someday, I’m going to do something like that.”

Within weeks of his surgery, Fox was walking with the help of an artificial leg. Despite the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, he felt fortunate compared to other children he had seen at the clinic, many of whom were dying. Not only did he feel compassion for them, but also a sense of responsibility that came with being a survivor. He became determined to do something to help. Inspired by Traum’s example, Fox decided he would run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

“I’ve seen people in so much pain. The little bit of pain I’m going through is nothing. They can’t shut it off, and I can’t shut down every time I feel a little sore” (from Terry’s journal).

His prosthesis underwent several modifications so it could better withstand the impact of long-distance running, but it was still awkward and uncomfortable. Characteristically, Fox persisted, and began his cross-country Marathon of Hope on 12 April 1980, dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was a cold, wet start to his epic journey along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Typically, Fox would wake up before the crack of dawn and run about 42 km (roughly a marathon) each day. He was supported by long-time friend Doug Alward, who drove the van, and by his brother, Darrell, who would run alongside Terry, collecting donations from onlookers in whatever receptacle he could find.

"Twenty-six miles is now my daily minimum. It is a beautiful, quiet, peaceful country. I love it” (from Terry’s journal). In addition to coming close to being hit by cars or trucks on a few occasions while running across the Atlantic Provinces and Québec, Fox was disappointed by the poor reception in those provinces, where very few people seemed to know about his Marathon of Hope.

But by the time Fox hit Ontario, national media coverage had picked up greater momentum. This was due in part to the efforts of Bill Vigars, from the Canadian Cancer Society, who scheduled public gatherings along the way to capitalize on Terry’s approachable and earnest manner. The goal was to put a face to the Marathon of Hope, and soon people came out in droves. The coverage was such that even the Provincial Police volunteered to accompany him to ensure his safety on the road.

“If I died, I would die happy because I was doing what I wanted to do. How many people could say that? (…) I want to set an example that will never be forgotten" (from Terry’s journal).

After being welcomed like a national hero in Southern Ontario, Terry embarked on the second half of his cross-country journey, taking him across the rugged terrain of Northern Ontario, through towns like Craighurst, Blind River, and Marathon. However, things changed dramatically just outside Thunder Bay on September 1, 1980, when he started to cough.

The cancer had invaded his lungs. Terry was forced to stop running. By this time, he had run for 143 days and covered 5,373 km.

On September 18, 1980, Terry Fox became the youngest Companion of the Order of Canada in a special ceremony in his home town of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.

By February 1, 1981, Terry had achieved his dream of raising $1 for every person in Canada.

Although Terry vowed to complete his cross-Canada run, he was unable to return to the road. He died on June 28, 1981 at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia, only a month before his 23rd birthday.

Terry Fox ran more than halfway across Canada to raise money for cancer research. Every year, millions of people around the world continue the Marathon of Hope in his name.

*All quotes are from Terry, in his own words. They can be found here: