Thirty-two years after Terry Fox inspired a nation with his Marathon of Hope, his spirit of determination lives on in the hearts of thousands around the world who take part in the annual Terry Fox Run.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Mayor Jim Scarrow (left) and CKBI radio host Don Mitchell trade memories of their time organizing the Prince Albert Terry Fox Run. This year’s event includes both a triathlon starting at Frank J. Dunn Swimming Pool and the traditional Terry Fox Run at Harry Jerome Track.
Mayor Jim Scarrow, then manager of CKBI, and his radio host Don Mitchell organized the first Terry Fox Run in Prince Albert only months after Fox succumbed to cancer in 1981. Mitchell said the runner’s tragic early death helped bring Canadians together.
“People started to realize, okay, here’s this young kid who went out and did this pretty much on his own,” Mitchell said. “We all know somebody who has cancer and has been affected by it, so it would affect a lot of people … right across Canada.”
Scarrow pointed out that when Fox began the Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research, he was an unknown figure who attracted relatively little media coverage and was accompanied only by his friend and brother.
“It started really slow,” Scarrow said. “I think probably because most people figured he’d poop out somewhere in the Maritimes. And then all of a sudden, the media started to go — because we were both in media — and you could just see this thing swelling, and it seems to me that when he crossed into Ontario, the thing just exploded.”
In Ottawa, Fox met with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and performed the ceremonial kickoff at a Canadian Football League game. A massive buzz had built, and when he entered Toronto, the city came to a virtual standstill.
Runner Elizabeth Moar, who is co-organizing the 2012 Prince Albert event with Vern Hodgins, underscored the immensity of Fox’s task.
“I run marathons and I have two perfectly healthy legs,” she said. “For this young man to run a marathon every day, day after day, with his stump bleeding … through any kind of weather — as I say, I’ve run a marathon, but I didn’t get up and run another one the next day, and the next day (and the) next day.”
After Fox’s death, Scarrow compared the resultant pall cast over the country to moments like the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But the grief shared by so many Canadians quickly translated into action to honour their fallen hero’s legacy.
As key media figures in Prince Albert who shared building space with the Canadian Cancer Society, Scarrow and Mitchell were ideally placed to help organize the city’s first Terry Fox Run. It took place in Little Red River Park and attracted at least 425 runners and a couple hundred more spectators.
I don’t know of another hero that we’ve got in Canada that would even come close. Mayor Jim Scarrow
“The first year was kind of a ‘let’s get this done and going,’” Mitchell said. “But I remember the flatbed trucks … and the music and the people came out. It was just a festival atmosphere.”
Scarrow added, “There was a lot of emotion in the crowd. I think we had a prayer, and then it was a beautiful fall day, as I recall.”
Following the successful 1981 run, the next year saw an even larger turnout, with more than 625 runners.
Since the fervor of those early years, attendance at the main Terry Fox Run has decreased somewhat. But according to the Terry Fox Foundation, 73% of donations now come from runs sponsored by schools and the corporate sector.
“The fact … that it’s still going so strong around Canada and around the world after 32 years, I think that’s amazing,” Hodgins said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the schools carrying the weight of it now, because that means young people are learning the message and teachers are teaching it to young people and showing them the videos.
“When you talk about things like courage and perseverance and endurance and never giving up, what better message is there to teach kids at school than that?”
Scarrow was unequivocal in his assessment of Fox: “I don’t know of another hero that we’ve got in Canada that would even come close.”
The 2012 Prince Albert Terry Fox Run includes a triathlon starting at the Frank J. Dunn Swimming Pool at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16 as well as the formal run at the Harry Jerome Track in Prime Ministers’ Park beginning at 2 p.m.
Mitchell stressed that the “run” is also a “walk” and encouraged families and children to come out. Pledge forms are available at Canadian Tire, some banks, and local recreation facilities including the Margo Fournier Centre, Art Hauser Centre, Alfred Jenkins Field House, and Frank J. Dunn Swimming Pool.