Terrance Stanley (Terry) Fox, CC, athlete, humanitarian, cancer research activist (born 28 July 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba; died 28 June 1981 in New Westminster, British Columbia). Terry Fox inspired the nation and the world through his courageous struggle against cancer and his determination to raise funds for cancer research. Not long after losing his leg to cancer, Fox decided to run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. He ran from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Thunder Bay, Ontario, covering 5,373 km in 143 days, but was forced to halt his Marathon of Hope when cancer invaded his lungs. The youngest person to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada, he has inspired millions across the world, many of whom participate in the annual Terry Fox Run for cancer research.
Fox also ran cross-country and played soccer and rugby, and was co-winner of his school’s Athlete of the Year Award in grade twelve.
Fox was very determined from a young age. This was particularly evident in his approach to athletics, especially basketball. Although he was relatively small in grade eight (at five feet tall) and had little natural ability, Fox was determined to make his school basketball team. Hours of practice and sheer persistence paid off, and Fox was eventually chosen for his high school’s starting team. Fox also ran cross-country and played soccer and rugby, and was co-winner of his school’s Athlete of the Year Award in grade twelve. His determination and dedication were again recognized at Simon Fraser University, where he was chosen for the school’s junior varsity basketball team.
In 1977, when he was only 18, Fox was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer), and doctors amputated his right leg 15 cm above the knee. Within weeks he was walking with the help of an artificial leg. Not long after, in the summer of 1977, Fox joined Rick Hansen’s wheelchair basketball team; he would win three national titles as part of the team.
During his months of chemotherapy Fox witnessed the suffering of many others afflicted with cancer, and, characteristically, he was determined to do something to help. On the night before his surgery, he had read an article about Dick Traum, an amputee who had run the New York City Marathon; inspired by Traum’s example, Fox decided he would run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. He started marathon training in 1979, using a prosthetic leg adapted for running, and ran a marathon in Prince George, British Columbia, in August of that year. By the time he began his Marathon of Hope in April 1980, he had logged over 5,000 km on training runs, and had enlisted the support of the Canadian Cancer Society and companies including Ford Motor Company, Imperial Oil, and Adidas.
Marathon of Hope
“I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try” - Terry Fox
Fox began his cross-country Marathon of Hope on 12 April 1980, dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland. He ran about 42 km (roughly a marathon) a day through the Atlantic provinces, Québec, and Ontario. Fox was supported by long-time friend Doug Alward, who drove a van along the route, and by his brother Darrell, who joined them in New Brunswick.
He’s been called the “unsung hero” of the Marathon of Hope. Doug Alward and Terry Fox first bonded over athletics in Grade Eight at Mary Hill Junior High School in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. They shared a love of basketball, but Terry was ranked last on the school’s team. Their phys-ed teacher suggested other sports, like cross-country running or wrestling. But Terry was determined. After the school year ended, he called Doug and asked him to play some one-on-one. They ended up practicing all summer. By Grade Ten, both Terry and Doug were starting guards on the basketball team. In Grade Twelve, they shared the Athlete of the Year award; by that time, Terry was the better basketball player, while Doug was a star cross-country runner.
Doug was with Terry when he dipped his foot into the Atlantic Ocean on 12 April 1980, marking the beginning of the Marathon of Hope. Doug drove the van throughout the spring and summer, waking every morning at 4:30 a.m. to return Terry to where he had stopped the day before. Doug tracked every kilometre that Terry ran, from St. John’s to Thunder Bay: 5,373 in total.
“But from day one, from the first hour he was the guy who could make Terry laugh, and make us all laugh” - Bill Vigars
Darrell Fox was 17 years old when he joined his older brother on the Marathon of Hope in May 1980. He had just completed his final exams — graduating high school a month earlier than his peers — before leaving Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, to meet up with Terry in Saint John, New Brunswick. It was Darrell’s first trip on an airline and the first time he had travelled alone. On his arrival, he remembers seeing Terry run down the road and a look of surprise flash across his face as he registered the appearance of his younger brother. “Though many of my memories have over time disappeared, that one is still fairly fresh,” Darrell recalled in an interview with Historica Canada in 2015.
Darrell and Doug Alward acted as a support team for the rest of the Marathon of Hope, travelling ahead of Terry in the van and stopping every three kilometres for a break. Darrell provided water, oranges, a fresh shirt – whatever Terry needed, recalled Bill Vigars, who joined the Marathon of Hope in his public relations role with the Canadian Cancer Society.
While media coverage was slow at first, communities such as Grand Falls and Bishop’s Falls, NL, came out to support him, and Fox gained increasing attention as he ran through the Atlantic provinces and Québec. By the time he reached Ontario, he was a national star, feted by thousands at appearances organized by the Canadian Cancer Society. Fox met Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, British actress Maggie Smith, and NHL greats Bobby Orr and Darryl Sittler, who presented Fox with his 1980 NHL All-Star sweater.
However, Fox was forced to stop running just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, on 1 September 1980, as the cancer had invaded his lungs. By this time, he had run for 143 days and covered 5,373 km. Although Fox vowed he would complete his cross-Canada run, he was unable to return to the road; he died less than a year later at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia, only a month before his twenty-third birthday.
Fox’s goal to raise one dollar for every Canadian, or about $24 million, was reached on 1 February 1981, but fundraising has continued in his name. His bravery and determination have inspired many, including Steve Fonyo, Rick Hansen, and Isadore Sharp, who organized the first annual Terry Fox Run in 1981. The Terry Fox Foundation, which now organizes the annual run, has raised over $600 million for cancer research. Millions of people in Canada and around the world participate every year in the Foundation’s annual Terry Fox Run, and in 2007 the Terry Fox Research Institute was established. Many schools, buildings, roads, and parks around the country have been named in his honour. In 2004, Fox ranked second after Tommy Douglas in the CBC Television program “The Greatest Canadian.” Fox’s story has been told in books, television movies — the award-winning “The Terry Fox Story” (1983) and “Terry” (2005) — and the documentary Into the Wind (2010), which was co-directed by Steve Nash.
In 1980, Terry Fox ran 5,373 km using a prosthesis designed primarily for walking. His accomplishment inspired Canadians across the country as well as amputees and para-athletesaround the world. It also motivated researchers to develop prostheses better suited for running.
The prosthesis Fox used for the Marathon of Hope was designed by British Columbia prosthetist Ben Speicher. Speicher adapted the conventional walking prosthesis, using a steel knee joint that operated much like a hinge (the Otto Bock 3R17). The leg was attached by suction and a series of belts; an elastic strap was added to help extend the leg forward. At about 4 kg, the prosthesis was heavy compared to the lightweight running prostheses used today.
Terry Fox Heritage Minute Reproduction
In 2015, Historica Canada produced a Heritage Minute about Terry Fox. Jared Huumonen, the amputee who plays Fox in the film, used an almost identical prosthesis, which had been replicated by British Columbia prosthetist Geoffrey Hall. The prosthesis used the same steel single-axis knee joint, harnessing and socket as the original, but the wood-and-rubber foot was replaced by a modern carbon fibre version. Although the lightweight foot improved shock absorption and reduced energy expenditure, Huumonen found it difficult to run using the replicated leg with the carbon fibre foot.
“Jared practiced only one week with this prosthesis before filming commenced,” recalled Hall. “This was a considerable feat because the old … knee is not as stable and suitable for running as a modern prosthetic knee. He did have a couple of falls while training, descending ramps and inclines with this prosthesis; and during filming I kept close to him when we were walking on uneven ground and slopes to ensure that he would not further injure himself.”
Terry Fox Running Prosthesis
Terry Fox’s cross-country run inspired millions of Canadians, across all walks of life. This included researchers. In July 1980, while Fox was running through Ontario, The War Amputations of Canada asked Guy Martel, head of the prosthetics and orthotics department at Chedoke-McMaster Hospital (Hamilton), to meet with Fox to review his prosthetic needs.
Unfortunately, Fox died before Martel could develop a better running prosthesis. However, in February 1982, Martel and his team received a $17,000 research grant from The War Amps of Canada to build an improved running prosthesis. The research team (Martel, Hubert de Bruin, head of biomedical engineering, and mechanical technologist Edwin Iler) eventually developed and tested a lighter leg which used a commercial carbon graphite polycentric-axis knee joint, a standard foot, an improved version of Terry’s failed spring-loaded mechanism and a pneumatic shock absorber. The improvements would have made it easier for Fox to run, and would have eliminated the need for the hop-skip style of running that he used.
Modern Running Prostheses
Lower-limb prostheses have improved significantly since 1980, owing in large part to the availability of carbon fibre composite materials. These materials, which had originally been developed for the aerospace industry, have allowed engineers to create prostheses that are lighter, stronger and more durable. Developments in computer-aided technology have also improved control and responsiveness of prosthetic knees.
If Terry Fox were running today, he would likely use either the Ottobock 3S80 or Össur’s Total Knee 2100 in combination with the Flex-Run prosthetic foot. In comparison, the modern prosthetics are vastly superior in terms of socket fit, responsiveness and stability. They are also significantly lighter: whereas Fox’s leg weighed around 4 kg, a running prosthesis using Ottobock’s 3S80 weighs around 2 kg.