Students at Weyburn’s two junior high schools were encouraged to “never ever give up” on their dreams, as they heard from Fred Fox, the older brother of the late Terry Fox, on Wednesday morning.
Fox was on a tour of schools around southern Saskatchewan, visiting the Weyburn schools in the morning and Yellow Grass School in the afternoon.
Many schools will be taking part in the Terry Fox National School Run on Thursday, Sept. 26, which has evolved into a major part of the fundraising done for the Terry Fox Foundation, which supports cancer research.
Fred is older than Terry by 14 months, and shared some of his memories of what Terry was like growing up. They were born in Winnipeg where the Fox family initially lived until moving to North Surrey, B.C., in 1966, and then Port Coquitlam in 1970.
Fred acknowledged that many fellow Canadians think of Terry as a hero, but he pointed out that Terry never thought of himself that way. The primary reason Terry began the “Marathon of Hope” was because “he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Fred.
He noted there are numerous ways in which his late brother has been honoured, including a mountain named after him in B.C., 14 schools, statues and buildings, including a library in Port Coquitlam.
When Terry was the same age as the junior high students, Fred told them, “he had the same dreams and hopes that you do.”
He commended them for continuing with the National School Run, and said, “You guys are truly making a difference.”
Going back into his childhood, Fred explained that one of the reasons Terry could put himself into a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research was that they were taught by their parents to always finish what they started.
As a boy, Terry loved to play sports, and while small for his age, he never gave up, but always practiced long and hard, earning himself a sport on the school’s basketball squad, including in his first year at Simon Fraser University.
“He showed people he belonged, because of his work ethic and what he did,” said Fred.
In many ways, Terry’s life changed forever when he was diagnosed at the age of 18 with osteogenic sarcoma, or bone cancer, which resulted in the partial removal of his right leg six inches above his knee in 1977.
Recalling that his brother’s goal was to someday be a high school teacher, Fred went in to see Terry in the hospital, and the first thing he asked him was, “Why you?”
“Immediately he said, ‘why not me? I’ve been told all my life I’m not big enough or tough enough; this is just another challenge,’” said Fred, noting Terry had been fitted with an artificial leg within two weeks, and he had to learn how to walk all over again.
Meantime, as Terry underwent chemotherapy for his cancer, he saw other cancer patients facing much harder circumstances than he was, and he began to formulate his plan for the first “Marathon of Hope”.
“It was at that moment his heart grew larger,” said Fred. “That cancer made him a better and more caring person.”
Terry began a friendship with Rick Hansen around this time as he learned how to run again, and as part of that training, Terry and Rick went to a Labour Day 26-mile race in Prince George, B.C.
“When the race finished, he finished last, but it didn’t matter to him; he was so happy that he crossed the finish line. If he was here today, he’d tell you it doesn’t matter if he was last, but that he tried and gave his very best,” said Fred.
As Terry began to develop his idea for the cross-country run, he began to train for it, and Fred noted Terry ran over 5,000 km in preparation before he ever began the actual “Marathon of Hope”.
Once he set out from the East Coast on the cross-country run, Fred said Terry ran the equivalent of a marathon every day (42 km or 26 miles). He ran for 143 days, covering 5,373 km (or 3,339 miles) until he was forced to stop just outside of Thunder Bay, Ont., as cancer had appeared in his lungs. He had to go home to deal with it, and he never resumed the national marathon, dying on June 28, 1981 at the age of 22 years, only a month short of his 23rd birthday.
Fred told the students that what was remarkable was when he had to stop, Terry felt he was letting people down by not finishing the run, and hoped that other Canadians would take up the cause and finish it.
In an interview, Terry said, “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”
Terry’s mother, Betty, spoke for many years about her late son’s campaign, and she passed away a couple years ago, said Fred, who wanted to wrap up his talk the way his mom used to do it: “Just like Terry, always set goals, and never ever give up on your dreams.”