INTO THE WIND: TERRY FOX
Like many young people who are diagnosed with bone cancer, Canadian Terry Fox faced a heart-wrenching choice: lose the leg or dramatically increase the odds of losing your life. When the spread of metastatic osteosarcoma made the decision to amputate necessary in 1977, Terry could have settled for a restricted life circumscribed by "Handicapped Only" signs. He could have taken the safe route, and everyone would have understood. Instead, he was determined to help find a cure for the disease that crippled him, hoping in some chimerical fashion to raise one dollar from each of his fellow Canadians.
With his family and friends he plotted a strategy that seems laughable in its audacity. He strapped on his prosthetic leg and began a "Marathon of Hope", a cross-country journey to raise funds to fight cancer. Why he assumed people would stop their driving to give money to a complete stranger jogging on the side of the road is an unknown. In a letter before his race began, Terry wrote: "We need your help. The people in cancer clinics all over the world need people who believe in miracles. I am not a dreamer, and I am not saying that this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer. I believe in miracles. I have to."
In 1980 he dipped the toe of his artificial leg into the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean and began his trek, hoping to run 26 miles, the equivalent of a marathon, each day! His projected path from Newfoundland to British Columbia would require a journey of 5,500 miles! The plan was absurd by all accounts. First of all, prostheses back then were little more than wooden legs. Most of the advances in prosthetic technologies came about during the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq. Prosthetics are truly amazing today; laser technology and the latest polymers provide an almost perfect connection between a real torso and a man-made appendage. But not so much then. Often, the top of the manufactured leg did not fit exactly to the stump, leaving the skin red and raw from abrasion and chafing. Second, marathon runners recognize that the body can only take so much abuse. Even if Terry was jogging at three miles an hour, he would have to run nine hours a day. Every day! In the summer heat or through bitter cross-winds. Like many great dreams, it seemed delusional.
The 22-year-old didn't care. His brother and a friend agreed to follow Terry in a camper throughout the trip. Things started slowly. Early on he faced bitter, biting wind and sleet and rain. Fortuitously, a publicist got wind of the story and promoted it as a human-interest item. Soon people were eager to see the ambitious marathoner and came out to the side of the road to meet him. Many brought donations. Soon, TV cameras and reporters monitored his every step. By the time he reached Thunder Bay, Ontario, near northern Minnesota, he had already run for 143 days, traversed 3,300 miles, and become a national phenomenon. He often stopped to make speeches or meet cancer-plagued children who were inspired by him. His efforts punished his body in myriad ways, from shin splints to tendinitis to the development of cysts on his stump. Nevertheless, he persisted.
It was at this point that Terry's health took a sorry turn. He weakened and checked into a local hospital, where it was determined that the cancer that had been in remission had returned with a vengeance to his lungs and other organs.
Below: Here is a short version of the story of the Marathon of Hope from ESPN.
Terry was flown to a specialized hospital in British Columbia. His race was over. But he inspired so many of his countrymen that Canadian citizens ran everything from pot-luck dinners to telethons to raise money for his cause. A number of people volunteered to pick up his path in Ontario and run the rest of the race for him!
Terry tried all traditional means of cancer treatments, but to no avail. He died in the hospital in 1981. Fox's efforts, however, spurred millions to donate and garnered tens of millions of dollars in contributions. What seemed preposterous at one point--to raise a dollar for each of Canada's twenty-five million citizens--ended with that goal seeming paltry. To date, the hundreds of fundraising arms dedicated to Terry have collected nearly $700,000,000 to support his dream. The Terry Fox Foundation can claim many successes. The most heart-warming for Terry would probably be the statistic that shows that today most children with bone cancer can now turn to other medical avenues than amputation to begin their healing and that the survival rate from osteosarcoma has soared.
Below: A statue honoring the legacy of Terry Fox in Ottawa and a gold coin commemorating his legacycommissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint. ESPN's full 30 for 30 tribute to Fox, called "Into the Wind", can be seen in segments on YouTube. There are also some other documentaries. I'm attaching one of them.