In the summer of 1980, I scampered up and down my parents’ driveway, trying desperately to copy Terry’s irregular gait. The rhythm wasn’t easy, but it was familiar and appealing to me, having watched it so many times on the news. Stride, hop, shuffle. I practiced it over and over again. I didn’t want to run. I wanted to run like Terry.
Like most Canadians, I had only a vague sense of the Marathon of Hope when it started. Maybe I saw something on the news when Terry dipped his foot in the Atlantic Ocean – the six o’clock news was a ritual in our household – or maybe I know that image from all the times it’s been replayed in the intervening decades. But once he crossed into Ontario, passing through my hometown of Ottawa, I started to pay much closer attention. I remember my sister talking about a runner with one leg and, if I recall correctly, there was a welcome banner hanging somewhere in the centre of the city.
I never saw Terry run in person, but I eagerly watched the highlights of his visit to Parliament Hill and an Ottawa Rough Riders game. And I tracked him as he continued on to Toronto, where he received a hero’s welcome in Nathan Phillips Square.
A few weeks later, with the momentum building, my family happened to catch up to the Marathon of Hope somewhere between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, while we were on a family vacation. By then, I was reading about him in the newspaper every day. Our paths didn’t cross, but the anticipation in the communities we travelled through was evident.
And then, shockingly, just a few weeks later, it was over. I saw the clip of Terry announcing that cancer had returned. I bought an extra copy of the newspaper that day, so I could have my own, separate from my dad’s.I never imagined the story could have such a tragic ending. I kept thinking Terry would soon be running again. Looking back, I think the Marathon of Hope was the first and most powerful lesson of my life that it’s the journey that matters,not the destination. The fact that Terry never made it to the finish line doesn’t diminish his accomplishments; indeed, it’s what made other people so determined to adopt his cause and make it their own, rather than simply keep watching him from the side of the road.
Terry has been with me throughout my life since I hopped and shuffled down that driveway as an 11-year- old boy. The Marathon of Hope was a landmark event in my young life so it’s no surprise that it still resonates with me today. But one of the measures of how significant Terry Fox was is how he means just as much to people younger than 35 as he does to me.
To all of us, Terry Fox is a hero, an icon, an idol. But we should also think of him as an ordinary man. Terry was extraordinary because of his choices and his actions, meaning the same potential exists in all of us.
None of us can match Terry Fox (it still bugs me that he came only second in the Greatest Canadian poll a decade ago). But even if we don’t copy his gait, we can all run like him. We can test our limits. We can raise money and awareness. We can use running to prove a point, to show we’re prepared to do something hard—if in some way that can change the world.
Mark Sutcliffe is the founder
of iRun magazine and co- chairman of the United Way Ottawa campaign. He hosts The Running Show on TSN1200.ca, a talk show on 580 CFRA and is the author of Why I Run: The Remarkable Journey of the Ordinary Runner.