John Duggan writes that the story of Terry Fox is worth getting familiar with, now we may have more time on our hands to reflect on life...
I have thought about two things in recent days; being privileged and the passage of time.
In lockdown during the first pandemic in 100 years, I have taken a glass half full approach to the situation in the New Year; I have walked every day, I have entered a dry January, I am enjoying the simple pleasures of a stroll in the cold or a cup of tea. A good conversation. I have loved watching sport. I am very fortunate not to have been impacted by the pandemic in the suffering of a loved one or by losing my employment. It actually conjures moments of guilt. That's what happens to you when you are struck by empathy approaching middle age. My empathy is making up for lost time on my conscience.
I have also thought about sporting milestones. Is it really 10 years since Stephen Cluxton kicked that point and Ireland collapsed like a bad souffle in the Cake Tin? Is it 20 years since foot and mouth knocked Cheltenham on the head and Jason McAteer scored at Lansdowne Road? Is it 30 years since the Dublin and Meath epic and John Daly's wild breakthrough? Is it 40 years since Botham's Ashes? Is it 50 years since Babs hurled in bare feet? Is it 60 years since Tottenham won the double? The answer is yes to all of those questions.
It's also 40 years since Terry Fox passed away.
So many people in Ireland have made sacrifices in recent months; those on the front line caring for the sick are the first that come to mind. Also, those who check in on the elderly or young people full of energy, who should be enjoying campus life, but instead are doing the right thing and limiting their contacts. Ruminating on these sacrifices brought me back to Terry Fox, for what he did not only in Canada, but how his 'Marathon of Hope' inspired people around the world.
Terry Fox lost his right leg to bone cancer when he was 18 years old in 1977. His leg was amputated six inches above the knee. In 1979, he started training by running with his artificial leg with the ambition of completing a marathon a day and traversing Canada from east to west.
On April 12th 1980, Terry Fox dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean at St John's in Newfoundland. With just his best friend Doug Alward driving a van for company, Terry set off on his goal of running 26 miles each day, starting at 4am, raising money for cancer research and building awareness for what he was attempting to achieve along the journey. He had eight pairs of running shoes and three artificial legs.
In the literature, in the TV movie and in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary profiling Terry's story, it's evident he was a single minded and incredibly resilient person. Only 21 when he began the 'Marathon of Hope', here was a kid who was compelled to run for those patients he saw in hospital wards while undergoing chemotherapy.
In the footage of his daily marathon, one sees how awkward and at times painful it was for him to run with the prosthetic leg. The stump would bleed. He'd nearly get run off the road at times. Rain and cold temperatures greeted Terry at the start and then it became too hot in subsequent months. Publicity was slow, especially in Quebec, and living out of a van was difficult. Terry's brother Darrell joined the van to help out and things began to improve. Communities noticed. Local and then national media began to pay attention. Suddenly, a little known quest had become an overnight sensation. By the time Terry got to Ontario and its capital Toronto, citizens lined the streets to cheer him on; while others would run with him as the public pressed dollar bills into his hands. He would be asked to receptions each day to talk about his progress. He was becoming a national hero in Canada.
On September 1st 1980, Terry Fox's 'Marathon of Hope' came to an end. The cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He had run a distance of 3339 miles over 143 days. Canadian Television raised $10 million dollars in aid of the 'Marathon of Hope' by way of a telethon a week later.
On June 28th 1981, Terry Fox died, a month before his 23rd birthday. In the last four decades, $800 million has been raised for cancer research in Terry's name and the Terry Fox Run has been held around the world.
In recent years, the 'Shave or Dye' campaign inspired people in Ireland to do their bit for cancer research. There are so many charities deserving of support, and it can be a very personal choice for each individual. For some, it may be a deeply private matter to help others.
Terry Fox lives in my mind because of his indefatigable will not to be beaten. He wasn't a professional athlete or an Olympic champion. He was just an ordinary person taking the hand he was dealt and turning it into a positive. His gift was to make people aware of his actions and to move them to act themselves by his sheer selflessness. He just kept running. All of this when he was up against a deadly disease.
He once said this: "It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live. The answer is to try and help others."
I never got the sense Terry Fox wanted to be a hero, even though he is one of Canada's finest sons.
He just wanted to help. Whenever I think about him, I admonish myself for not doing more for others.
To me, Terry Fox was an incredible human being. His is a moving legacy which his spirit carries to this day.