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Who is Terry Fox?


While Terry Fox is a household name in Canada, his story may be new to some people in the UK. In this blog, our Digital Communications Officer Laura-Maria Horga shares the story of the Canadian hero whose legacy continues more than 40 years after his death.

Posted on 25 October, 2022 by Laura-Maria Horga

Terry Fox running the Marathon of Hope

Image: Terry Fox running the Marathon of Hope through Hudson, QC on June 27, 1980. Credit: Terry Fox Foundation

I first learned about Terry Fox through the Terry Fox Run UK for The Institute of Cancer Research. This event is part of global constellation of races that bring together millions of people around the world to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.

Terry was a Canadian 22-year-old who ran 3,339 miles over 143 days across Canada in 1980, despite a leg amputation, to raise money for cancer research. The more I read about Terry the more I was inspired by his story. From someone who never saw himself as remarkable, here is the true story of courage and determination of a young man who, quite simply, changed the world.  

Who was Terry Fox?

Terry was born in 1958, Winnipeg, the capital city of the Canadian province of Manitoba. As a teenager, he was very active playing sports including basketball, soccer, track and field.

At 18, he was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer called osteogenic sarcoma. He had to have his right leg amputated above the knee and undergo chemotherapy to keep the cancer from spreading, but he was back walking three weeks after surgery.

Why was he running across Canada?

According to Terry, what was harder than losing his leg was seeing many young people dying or suffering from cancer in the hospital. While impressed by the improvements in survival rates due to medical advances, he was disappointed by how little money was dedicated to cancer research.

Terry decided to run east to west across Canada, with the aim to raise $1 for every Canadian for cancer research.

On 1 April 1980, he started his ‘Marathon of Hope’ at the easternmost point of Canada. He ran 26 miles, almost a marathon, every single day. His best friend Doug Alward and brother Darrell Fox were following him in a van for support. Terry would rise at 4.00am, run 12 miles, rest, then do 14 miles in the afternoon and seek donations across the highway. He said:

‘‘I set my goal high because I believe in miracles. It’s not supposed to be easy. Things that are worthwhile don’t come easy.

‘’A lot of people are telling me I’m crazy doing this but if I’m happy doing it then I’ll be happy crazy.’’

 Terry Fox and Darrell Fox - Credit Terry Fox Foundation

Image: Darrell Fox, Terry’s brother, joins Terry on the Marathon of Hope. Terry and Darrell are pictured by the support van on  May 31, 1980 – Saint John, NB. Credit: Terry Fox Foundation

Gaining popularity across Canada

News spread across Canada and soon the lonely highway was filled with many people wishing to cheer him on.

With each town he entered, spontaneous applause roared throughout the crowds. He stopped in more than 400 towns and talked about his dream, and became an inspirational hero for Canadians.

On 1 September 1980, he had to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, due to breathing difficulties – and taken to hospital, where it was discovered his cancer had spread to the lungs.

July 15 Terry and Darrell in Brantford ON - Photo Credit Brantford Expositor

Image: An archive photo of Terry Fox and Darrell Fox in Brantford ON  on July 15, 1980. Photo Credit Brantford Expositor.

What impact has Terry had?

While Terry was in hospital, Canadians continued working on Terry’s goal by organising a nationwide telethon. Terry was awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour in the country, becoming the youngest person ever receiving such award.

A few months later, on 28 June 1981, he died – but not before reaching his goal of raising $24 million for cancer research.

Terry’s extraordinary achievement and tragic death shook Canada and beyond. The Terry Fox Foundation was born with the mission to fundraise for cancer research.

Terry’s story become an inspiration to millions of people worldwide. Every year, people in around 30 countries participate in The National School Run Day, The Terry Fox Run, and Terry Fox fundraising events. To date, more than $850 million (£500 million) has been raised for cancer research in Terry’s name.

Professor Chris Bakal, one of our researchers, leader of the Dynamic Cell Systems team at the ICR, a Canadian, keen athlete, and proud Terry Fox ambassador, shares how Terry inspired him:

“As a Canadian, and an athlete, Terry Fox has always been an inspiration to me. As a scientist, he reminds me of the importance of perseverance, dedication, and the power of working together. Whether you’re in the lab or running with us, everyone can do their part to finish cancer.

“I remember how Terry started his Marathon of Hope and even as a young kid I was amazed by how superhuman this guy was. He redefined the idea of what one person can do to change the world around them. Thanks to Terry and the Terry Fox Foundation a lot more research has been made possible which has saved countless lives, and continues to drive tremendous discoveries to defeat cancer.”

Terry Fox and the ICR

In 2020, the Terry Fox Run UK returned after a 14-year hiatus. All funds raised from the Terry Fox Run UK currently go to the ICR.

Lannah Carbonilla, the ICR’s Head of Supporter Engagement, shares the impact Terry has had on fundraising for cancer research:

‘’Terry Fox’s legacy is so much more than the millions of pounds that have funded cancer research around the world for more than 40 years. His dream has brought people together and continues to inspire communities and individuals alike to raise any amount of money towards cancer research, by getting involved in the Terry Fox Run.

‘’Over the last two years we’ve raised nearly £150,000 from the Terry Fox Run UK in support of The Institute of Cancer Research, of which I’m incredibly proud. Not only will this fantastic achievement help fund targeted therapies that will benefit cancer patients, but it will also fund an ICR PhD student to join the next generation of cancer researchers.’’

How can you get involved?

Runner participating in Terry Fox event

The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years taught us a very important lesson. That is to never give up, which is exactly what Terry inspired us to do too.

The Terry Fox Run UK is now back in 2022, on Sunday 30 October. You can get involved by joining the run in Regent’s Park in London or from anywhere in the UK in a virtual run. Darrell Fox, Terry’s younger brother, will be our special guest for this year and will come to the event, so if you’re running on the day you will also be able to meet him!

You can walk, run or cycle any distance you wish for the 'Marathon of Hope', a global event in memory of Terry Fox, and support cancer research.

Join The Terry Fox Run


Chris Bakal fundraising sarcoma Terry Fox PhD studentships PhD
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