Monday, April 11, 2005

A Canadian Hero

Do you think people will remember? Will they keep the dream alive?

Generally speaking, Canadians are a modest and unassuming lot. To some extent, I guess that can't be helped when you live next door to the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world. Their heroes are the larger-than-life Davy Crocketts of their fabled history. If Canadians have heroes, and I have two, they are ordinary people, who through inner strength and courage, accomplish extraordinary things: people who remained modest and grounded with an "aw shucks" attitude about their endeavours.

Twenty-five years ago, Terry Fox, who unbeknownst to him, was soon to become a Canadian hero, dipped his artificial toe in the Atlantic ocean before beginning to run with his peculiarly endearing jog-hop-shuffle step. He ran forty-two kilometres (twenty-six miles) per day through good weather and bad, jog-hop-shuffling his way across Canada, determined to run until he dipped the foot of his artificial leg into the Pacific Ocean.

Terry captured the imagination of Canadians along the way. We all began to cheer this cheerfully unassuming one-legged, boy-become-man, extraordinary hero. We cheered as he entered Ontario and cheered as he was given a rock star's welcome in Toronto. His courage and determination had begun to move a nation.

It was this day in April 1980 when he began his odyssey, determined to raise the equivalent of one dollar for cancer research for every Canadian, for it had been cancer that had cost him his leg in 1977. Given the country's 1980 population, he would have had to raise twenty-four million dollars. Although, in the end, he couldn't succeed in his quest to run across this vast nation, his courageous efforts had met and exceeded his goal before he departed this world early the following year. I can even remember my little daughter, Butterfly, being moved to pledge five dollars to the cause.

He had to give up his dream in September. He only made it half way across the country, ran for only 143 days and for only 5,373 km (3,339 mi). He was forced to stop when cancer returned to assault him once more. He stopped his run on September 01, 1980 and vowed to resume his trek the following year. He didn't of course, for he could not defeat this enemy. If courage could have defeated cancer, Terry would still be here. If determination could have defeated cancer, Terry would still be here, but even Terry's valiant courage could not withstand this renewed assault of this relentless foe.

I have twice been to the monument that marks the spot where he was forced to abandon his marathon of hope. It lies on the entrance to Thunder Bay, Ontario along the Terry Fox Courage Highway. I have been deeply moved on each visit for it seems like hallowed ground to me.

I have thrice driven the roads where Terry ended his Marathon of Hope, for that's what he called his endeavour. The land is mighty and rugged up there north of Superior, almost mountainous. I have driven where he jogged, hopped and shuffled for forty-two kilometres per day. I have driven this stretch of road and been moved by what this one-legged , dauntless, young man dared to battle, day after endless, painful day.

Terry didn't make it across Canada, but his efforts had raised twenty-four million dollars by the time he breathed his last, early the following year. But that was only the beginning, for people still run in memory of Terry; people still collect pledges in his name. His twenty-four million dollar goal has been well exceeded — would you believe by fifteen-fold? — for 360 million dollars have been raised in the past twenty-five years.

Some of his final words were: "Do you think people will remember? Will they keep the dream alive?" You damn betcha, Terry. You moved a nation and continue to inspire, and you moved this gaffer, who remembers your splash into the hearts of the nation, and types these memories onto a screen that is obscured by the tears which blur his eyes.

When Canadians recently voted for their top Canadian among ten final candidates, Terry, you stood above Sir Frederick Banting, the discoverer of insulin, and Lester B Pearson, a winner of the nobel peace prize and prime minister of Canada. Even Alexander Graham Bell and Wayne Gretzky trailed at a distance.

You are a hero, a man who moved a nation, a man who inspires even though you have been gone for longer than you lived.

There is an audio-video clip of the unveiling of the monument here on the CBC archive. It includes some brief footage of Terry jogging through the difficult terrain near Thunder Bay.



Anonymous said...

Dad, I will have you know that it is exam time, and blogs such as this do not help appease the emotional wear and tear one goes through during these times. No, indeed not. I hearby request and funny, lighthearted blog to help those students who are currently on the brink of .... losing it. Please! I urge you to take pity!
Love You ;)

Gina said...

He does indeed sound like a hero.

Too often we Americans pick "heroes" bases on flash and glimpses of talent, rather than on character.

Much to our detriment, I believe.

Dale said...

Well said, AC. At my physio clinic, there hangs a huge painting of Terry Fox. I stare at him as Barbara painfully twists my toes and I try to imagine the courage Fox had to continue his marathon, every day, for 143 days. A hero, indeed.
But what about his ultimate goal? A cure for cancer. If money could buy a cure, we'd surely have it by now. I'll bet the Canadian Cancer Society is the richest charity in the country.