Terry Fox book a profile in courage
It’s a Canadian uniform as sacred as any battle-scarred Canadiens or Maple Leafs jersey: Terry Fox’s familiar white T-shirt and grey running shorts.
In his new book Terry, author Douglas Coupland tells the story of Fox’s mom Betty taking her son’s brittle and aged shorts and shirt out of storage so they could be photographed.
In doing so, some of the red lettering on the T-shirt flaked off and landed on her carpet.
Anyone else would have been aghast. Not Betty Fox.
“It’s 25 years later and that kid is still messing up my living room,” she cracked.
The impact of Terry Fox’s brief life continues to be felt, in more positive if less humorous ways. His Marathon of Hope remains a signal event in Canadian history which created a new kind of hero.
He didn’t score a big goal, shoot down a World World I flying ace or pirouette behind the Queen’s back. He merely captured the imagination of an entire nation and mobilized millions in the war against cancer.
His goal was to raise $24 million — a dollar for each of Canada’s citizens at the time — for cancer research. Fundraising through all the years since has reached over $360 million as millions take to the streets each spring to keep the Marathon of Hope rolling.
Coupland, best known for his 1991 work Generation X and, like Fox, a child of the Left Coast, profiles the best of Canada’s Boomers in this lovingly assembled album. He points out that cross-country fundraising expeditions today go largely unnoticed and unacclaimed. But the scope and scale of Fox’s achievement remains breathtaking, cash tallies and charisma aside.
It began with two friends and a borrowed van — no cellphones, no fax machines, no media strategy. Just a map and a long red line.
Those of us who have run marathons know the months of training, and the period of recovery, that go into the supreme effort of running 26 miles – once. In today’s extreme-sports-mad world, supermarathoners may run 400 miles or more.
Fox ran the equivalent of a marathon a day – for 143 days — with one leg! All the while meeting thousands of us, delivering speeches and giving hundreds of media interviews.
His familiar hopping gait, using a fairly primitive prosthetic limb, proved slow torture for his body.
“Nobody — nobody in recorded history — had ever run this many consecutive marathons, so there were no examples to learn from,” Coupland writes.
“Terry had shin splints, he lost many of his toenails, his knee was inflamed, his stump was endlessly bruised and chafed and developed many cysts.”
In an early personal diary entry of his marathon reproduced here, Fox betrays alarm — and courage — when he records an episode of dizziness on the 15th day of his journey on the road in Newfoundland.
“I was feeling pretty good and the first 2-and-3/4 miles went quite nicely then all of a sudden I was seeing 8 pictures of everything. I was dizzy and lightheaded but I made it to the van. It was a frightening experience,” he wrote. “I told myself it is to (sic) late to give up. I would keep going no matter what happened. If I died, I would die happy because I was doing what I wanted to do. How many people could or can say that?”
Deciphering Fox’s handwriting is one of the thrills of this interesting collection of ephemera. The book is also illustrated with a number of intimate family pictures – some never-before published — including some of those grainy, out-of-focus, round-cornered ones we all used to take with cheap 110 cameras back in the ’70s.
In these pictures Fox looks like anyone’s brother, mugging or moody, a kid with endless possibilities. Coupland writes about a boy who had to try harder to fulfil his dreams of making the soccer and basketball team, who had the focus and determination to make it happen.
The book is also about us, the people he met on his journey and those he continues to touch. Homely cartoon drawings from kids, and well-wishes from their parents, are sprinkled throughout.
Coupland says he was staggered by the collection of get-well cards he encountered while sifting through the Marathon of Hope archives in Vancouver. When Fox suffered his relapse, putting an end to his cross-country quest on a highway in Northern Ontario, the outpouring of support swamped his local post office and it kept coming from Canadians who very badly wanted him to know he mattered to them.
Terry resembles Coupland’s earlier Souvenir Of Canada projects, which pulled together an eclectic mix of True North images ranging from stamps and stubbies to the contents of his mom’s pantry.
Some of the choices here are equally odd — a picture of the hi-tech space station Canadarm is packaged together with Fox’s decidedly lo-tech prosthetic leg. To illustrate the recollection of Fox’s 1976 car accident, a smashed model of a Ford Cortina is offered — along with a cutline confessing Fox’s mishap didn’t look as serious.
But the fender-bender that November day in Port Coquitlam just might have changed his destiny. Fox seemed lucky to walk away from the crash with just a sore right knee, but the pain persisted and months later X-rays detected shadows that turned out to be an osteosarcoma.
It’s a form of cancer that strikes males between the ages of 10 and 25 during growth-spurt periods, and it’s possible the crash may have triggered it.
Today, a young man with Fox’s symptoms would likely get to keep his leg and live a long life, thanks to the huge strides made by cancer research over the past 25 years. Terry Fox, as a continuing symbol to inspire fundraising, can take much of the credit for that.
Coupland is donating his royalties to the Terry Fox Foundation to support cancer research.
It is a great book about The Greatest Canadian
Terry Fox book a profile in courage