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Terry Fox

September 18, 2006

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM, but he wasn't quite ready to get up yet. He lay still and took stock. He ached all over, but it was a good ache, the kind of ache that made a man feel like a man. Like he'd done a good day's work. It was the first day of September, 1980. He'd been running for almost five months. Five months! He couldn't help but smile. Almost everyone had told him he wouldn't make it even one month. They said he was crazy. They called him Don Quixote. His smile widened, and he looked over at his driver and dear old friend, Doug, beginning to stir on the other side of the van. His faithful squire. His Sancho Panza. One of the very few who believed in him right from the start.

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Don Quixote And Squire Sancho Panza - Pablo Picasso - 1955

And now here he was, five months later, with over 3,000 miles behind him, two thirds of his ordeal over. He took a deep breath, and felt a sharp pain in his lungs. Damn! He had hoped the pain might have gone away overnight. When he'd first mentioned it yesterday, Doug had immediately said he should see a doctor, but he was sick of doctors. It was just another pain, like all the others. He'd work through it.

He closed his eyes, indulging in a few more moments of precious rest, and his mind drifted back. Where did it all begin? Way back in the cancer clinic, learning to live with one leg, and seeing the suffering and desperation of the children around him. Children! Through no fault of their own, stricken with a disease that had no cure, no hope. It was the sounds that bothered him the most. The heart wrenching moans. The bloodcurdling screams. The doctor's voice, telling the twelve year old boy in the bed beside him that he only had a fifteen percent chance of survival, and then the sobbing. It was the saddest sound he had ever heard, and he decided right then and there he was going to do something about it. He was lucky. He was a survivor. Sure, he'd lost his leg, and that was horrendous, especially after he'd just made the S.F.U. varsity basketball team! But at least he was alive! He'd beaten his cancer. And he decided at that moment he was going to whatever he could, no matter how hard it was, so that some day doctors didn't have to tell twelve year old kids they were going to die.

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So he started training. For well over a year he ran every day, learning to use his artificial leg, and building his endurance, until he could consistently run over 20 miles a day. He ran until his stump was raw and bloody, and then he ran some more. One day his artificial leg snapped in half and he went crashing to the pavement. He picked himself up, bruised and bloody, and balancing on one leg, with the pieces of his artificial limb tucked under his arm, he stuck out his thumb, and hitchhiked home. He fixed the leg, tended his wounds, and went back out and ran five more miles.

He thought about how lonely it was, that cold, drizzly April day on the beach in St. John's Newfoundland, when he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic ocean, with Doug by his side, and started his Marathon of Hope. His goal was to inspire every Canadian to donate one dollar to cancer research. That would add up to 22 million dollars. Surely that would help some of those kids.

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A lot had happened since then. After running through five provinces, people were beginning to notice him, and the money had started trickling in. Some days were bad. Like the day of the ice storm, and the day the wind was so strong in his face he could barely move forward. That day somewhere in Quebec when it was raining, and cars would honk angrily at him and force him off the road.

But he chose to remember the good days. The day in Nova Scotia when a group of school children ran with him for a while. Then there was Greg Scott. Ten years old, he had also lost a leg to cancer, and he rode his bicycle beside him for about four miles. Watching that kid pedal up a hill with his one leg was the most inspiring moment of the entire trip so far. And the day he ran through the narrow Sparks Street Mall, with people running beside him, and lined up along the sides cheering and calling his name. That was a great day.

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Oh, well, enough laying around. He still had a few more miles to go before I sleep... as the poet wrote, and the sooner he got started, the sooner he'd be able to put another day and at least another 26 miles (his daily minimum) behind him. The first two or three miles were always the worst.

Unfortunately, he only made it three miles that day, before he collapsed, unable to catch his breath. His cancer had returned, like a thief in the night, and invaded his lungs, cutting short his cross country marathon. A few months later he was dead. He was only twenty-two years old.

But before he died he learned that even though he was unable to finish his run, and dip his leg in the Pacific Ocean, he had done his job. He had inspired people all across Canada to the extent that his goal of 22 million dollars was not only met, but exceeded. His dying wish was that what he did would continue to inspire more donations, and more research, so that kids with cancer could have hope again. And Terry's wish was fulfilled. Annual Terry Fox Runs are now held in over 51 countries, and since Terry died, more than 400 million dollars has been raised in his name for cancer research.

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In Canada, the Terry Fox Run is held on the second Sunday following Labour Day. Every year the event grows, with more countries and more participants taking part. Millions of people all over the world helping to find a cure for cancer, inspired by the courage and heart of a kid from Port Coquitlam, B.C., Terry Fox, a true Canadian hero.

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(For more info, visit www.terryfoxrun.org.)

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