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Facing West - Running Home

Story ID:5887
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Biography
Location:Thunder Bay Ontario Canada
Person:Terry Fox
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Facing West - Running Home

If you're from Canada, you'll remember this young man.
If you're not, you probably heard about him.
I've been meeting to write an inspirational story
about Terry for a long time.

Facing West; Running Home

“The guy’s crazy.” I mumbled.

I watched the news on television. The broadcaster talked as they showed a young,
curly-headed man dip his artificial leg into the Atlantic ocean in Saint Johns,
Newfoundland, Canada. “Terry Fox,” the man said, “is on a mission to raise money for
cancer research. Terry plans to run across Canada to raise one million dollars.” The
camera followed Terry as he began to run west in a half skip, half jog away from the
Atlantic toward the Pacific, more than five thousand miles in the distance

It was April 12, 1980, a cold and nasty time of year to run in Newfoundland.
“He’s insane.” I mumbled again and turned the news off. He ran twenty-six miles that
first day and every day after.

He ran alone. No one believed in him. A curious few stopped, stared, and then
went about their daily lives. One or two donated spare change. Over the next few weeks,
the news occasionally showed clips of Terry on his journey. He ran through snow, rain
and bitter cold.

Terry rose at 4 AM every day, ran twelve miles in the morning, rested, and then
ran another fourteen miles in the afternoon – a marathon every single day. Along the
way, he collected meager donations from those who waited along his route. Followed by
his brother and his best friend in a support van, Terry reached the end of Newfoundland
on May 6, 1980.

“This kid is serious.” I thought to myself. Like millions of other Canadians, I
began to follow his progress with fascination and learned his story.

Terry was eighteen when he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right knee.
After amputation and chemotherapy, he was left with memories of the kids he left behind
at the hospital. He wanted – needed – to do something.

Terry’s mother, when she learned of his plan to run across Canada asked, “Terry,
why not just run across British Colombia?”

He looked at her. “Mom, not only people in British Columbia get cancer.”

She couldn’t argue with his logic.

Terry trained fourteen months for his quest to save others. He ran with a gait
that would be remembered forever.

Along with millions of others, I followed his progress on the news. On the
20th of May, he passed through my place of birth and continued west. He took the ferry
to Prince Edward Island, ran there, and then returned and began his trek through
New Brunswick.

The nation watched and cheered. He no longer ran alone. In every town, people
ran with him. The donations increased. Terry was going to make it. He was living the
dream we all dream – to do something special for others. Through him, we lived.

One night, the news showed Terry running up a long, lonely hill in New
Brunswick. The rain soaked him. He was in the wilderness, following his dream. I cried
for him – a lonely man, skip-running up that hill – running home. It’s that picture I
remember. It’s stuck in my mind forever.

More than two months into his journey, after running through Quebec, Terry
entered the province of Ontario, and was invited to kickoff a Canadian Football League
game. A publicist, Bill Vigars, said, “We came up out of the arena and I thought to
myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if people knew who he was?’ As we walked toward the
sidelines, the announcer began, ‘Ladies and gentlemen …’ and that’s as far as he got. The
place went crazy.”

With Vigars’ help, Terry became a household name. The crowds grew bigger;
more money was donated; and Terry changed his goal. “I want to raise one dollar for
every Canadian. Wouldn’t it be nice to raise one dollar for every living person in
Canada?” His goal was twenty-four million dollars.

On September 1, 1980, Terry approached the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, after
running 3339 miles in 143 days, the distance from Miami to Seattle. He was in pain. He
coughed. His chest hurt. He asked to be taken to a hospital.

After examination, the doctors returned with grim news. The cancer was back.
Terry had been running with a tumor the size of a lemon and one the size a golf ball in his

Terry lay on a stretcher and shared the news with his followers. “The cancer has spread.”
Terry said through tears. “Now I have cancer in my lungs. And a … we gotta go
home and try and do some more treatment. But a …” He paused to choke back his
sobs. “All I can say is, if there’s anyway I can get out there again and finish it, I will.”

Terry was taken to a Vancouver hospital for new rounds of treatment. Days later,
a impromptu telethon was organize and raised more than ten million dollars. With the
two Terry already raised, he was well on his way toward his goal of one dollar for every
person in Canada.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981 at the age of twenty-two. His life is gone, but
his memory is not. In Thunder bay, Ontario stands a statue of Terry, in full stride, with
his head up, facing west, running home.

Terry died doing what he wanted to do in life and was awarded Canada’s highest
honor, The Order of Canada, the youngest to ever receive the medal. Every year a run
in Terry’s honor takes place in more than fifty countries at more than six hundred
locations. To date, almost three hundred million dollars has been raised for cancer
research in Terry’s name. He may not be with us in body, but in spirit, Terry is with us,
facing west, running home.


Michael T. Smith