I recently met a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia about three years ago. He’s now cancer-free and a normal kid, but to look in his eyes, he has the wisdom of a weathered soul.
He’s been through more pain than most of us would endure in a lifetime. And he lives with the reality that an illness linked to his life-saving bone-marrow transplant could attack his organs at any time.
“They’re just bumps in the road,” he said to me with the sweetest smile, as I interviewed him and his parents for a Telegraph-Journal story appearing Monday.
So here we are, 33 years after Terry Fox embarked on a cross-Canada journey to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
He made the journey so children don’t have to suffer, and, like the boy I met Saturday, so that they have a chance at life.
As runners, and as Canadians, I believe it’s so important to remember Fox’s legacy through the annual Terry Fox Run, which is Sunday, and do what we can to help.
I may not have been born when Fox ran his Marathon of Hope, but I know someone who was a part of his remarkable journey. Doug Ryan is my best friend’s father, a retired police detective, and he has been kind enough to allow me to share his memories with you.
“Before I joined the OPP in 1978, I had done a lot of long distance running. I knew the effort, stamina, strength and pain involved in pushing myself to the limit. In August, 1980, I was directed to escort Terry Fox from Gravel River as he made his way westbound through our area. Gravel River is about 45 km east of Nipigon on Highway 17. The only stretch of highway in Ontario more challenging than this area would have been the long hills before Wawa.
“Terry and his support team were ready to go when I got there, about 8:30 a.m. After a brief introduction and instructions from his brother, the escort began. Their camper truck was out front, then Terry, then me, about five car lengths behind, in a black and white Ford with the emergency lights activated.
“When he began to run I was overcome with emotion in less than a minute. The true gravity of the introduction, only moments earlier, became very apparent. I was watching this young man making history and I was privileged to be trusted with his safety. Privileged to have just met a champion the world was watching. Privileged to have just met a young man who was pouring his heart and soul into the whole world’s fight against cancer.
“Within minutes I was moved to tears when I thought about the effort he was putting out to continue his laboured, off-balanced stride. It made me realize that I had hardly pushed myself at all in my own running. It wasn’t long until traffic began to pull over. Westbound vehicles would pull out to pass us, go several hundred yards up the highway then pull over. Everyone would get out to cheer Terry on and make a donation. Eastbound vehicles would also stop and wait for Terry’s approach. The enthusiasm and donations were non-stop hour after painful hour. Many of those cheering and clapping were also moved to tears at the same time. Cancer has reached every family in one way or another and Terry’s efforts stirred up those emotions in all of us. As a young boy, I listened to my grandmother slowly die of cancer in the next room. It felt like Terry was putting himself through all this, just for her.
“By mid morning Terry stopped for a break and went down to the water’s edge. He wanted to be by himself. It was very apparent to me that he was in tremendous pain. He was clearly favouring his stump side and the expression on his face was that of a man enduring serious pain. I recall he had a bit of a dry cough when he was talking to his brother. Like the cough of an asthmatic. I didn’t think he would make it up Kama Hill, which was about halfway to Nipigon. Again, I was moved to tears, as he slowed to a walk to try and make it to the top of the biggest hill in our area. It didn’t seem possible that anyone could push themselves this hard, day after day. It took me a week to recover from one marathon. He was doing one marathon each day, against all odds. I was hoping he would stop, for his own sake.
“Terry Fox. The most determined, most influential, most important and the most inspirational person I have ever met. It was the most memorable day of my career.”
(Remarkably, Fox made it about 120 km past Nipigon, close to Thunder Bay, before the cancer spread to his lungs and he was forced to end the run. He died nine months later.)