Saturday, September 29, 2012

Celebrating the spirit of Terry Fox

(Uncle) Terry Fox at Matthew Halton High School
C. Davis photo

Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

Students at local schools assembled last week to celebrate the spirit of Terry Fox, the young Port Coquitlam man who attempted an inspirational run across Canada in 1980 after losing a leg to cancer in 1977.  As most people are aware, that run was cut short after 143 days when the cancer spread, ultimately claiming his life.  His run was called the "Marathon of Hope", and his mission to raise awareness and money for cancer research has been commemorated with a Terry Fox Run every year since 1981, and has spread to over 80 countries.

Canyon School
C. Davis photo

I was a teenager in a Quebec High School when Terry's run began in Newfoundland.  At the time, at first, it raised very little attention.  It was an oddity in the nightly news report.  There was very little attention paid to him until after he'd passed us by, and I can't recall discussing it with any of my classmates at the time.  Soon after, however, the story of his effort blossomed into a full-on media storm, and we became aware, as the rest of Canada did, that something very special was happening.

Matthew Halton School
C. Davis photo
 The shock when he had to stop hit the national consciousness hard, and later when he died there were real tears from so many of us who had never met him but had been deeply touched by the power of his vision, by the strength of his conviction, and by the magnitude of his accomplishment.

Livingstone School
C. Davis photo
To see so many young people in our community affected by Terry, and respectful of him, many of them the same age I was when Terry was making his run, was a little overwhelming.

St. Michael's School 
J. Davis photo

Canyon and Matthew Halton Schools held their Terry Fox events on Thursday, September 27.  Canyon students walked down Main Street and back.

Matthew Halton School's pre walk/run assembly had a very special guest, Terry's uncle, also named Terry Fox.

Mr. Fox thanked the students for their efforts, saying "Of every dollar that you give to the Terry Fox's Foundation 85 cents goes straight to cancer research".  He said the research was paying off.  "When my nephew lost his leg to cancer, they only gave him a 20% chance of survival.  Today, it's up to 80%."

Mr. Fox explained that Terry was a natural athlete.  "He loved sports.  He loved all sports, and he really loved basketball.  He was , in fact, athlete of the year in grade twelve at his high school."  When his leg was removed to try to stop the cancer from spreading,  "He was only 17, and then was he down.  The doctor told him that 'we have no room for you in the adults ward, we have to move you down to the children's ward', and he said  'That's fine, I like kids'."  There, Terry saw what kind of shape the younger children were in.  "Right away, he stopped feeling sorry for himself."

Mr. Fox said that during Terry's first marathon in Prince George BC the crowd stayed to see him cross the finish line, even though he was the last runner.  "He was last, but he finished. Now he know what to do  "Mom, Dad, I'm going to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research."

"He started April 12, 1980.  That's most of April, all of May, all of June, all of July, all of August he ran.  Then on September the first, The cancer had caught up with his lungs.  It didn't help cutting off his leg.  The cancer won.  So he had to go home, and as you know, he passed away."

"He did over 5000 kilometres."

There in the crowded Matthew Halton gym we could feel the connection.  We could see that all these years later, Terry was still missed, as a person, as a loved nephew, as a bright and brave young man.

"There are 7 billion people on Earth," Mr. Fox said, approaching some of the students very directly. Pointing, he said "There is only one of you.  There is no one like you in this world.  You are all special, and don't forget it.  There is no one like you, you're one of a kind, and you're all special.  This is another thing I learned from my nephew."

"You can be whatever you want, if you try hard enough in life.  You could be a doctor, a lawyer, mechanic, nurse, even a teacher, we need good teachers, as you know.  So don't forget that."  

"Even after all this time, is it hard to come and talk about your nephew?" one student asked.  "Yeah".  "What did it feel like to watch your nephew run? asked another.  "I was proud as heck."

The assembled students spontaneously gave Mr. Fox a standing ovation.

Teacher Duane Petluk addressed the students at the conclusion of Mr. Fox's talk.  "Every year, another 200,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer, and every week about 1,500 of those people lose their fight," he said.

"As some of you might know, when you have a loved one that's going through cancer, one of the hardest things is you feel helpless and powerless.  The only way to fight that is action.  That's the whole reason that we're here today, is action.  We're doing something."

"The second thing I want to talk about is solidarity.  When you are going through a fight with cancer or someone you love is going through a fight with cancer, sometimes you feel like you're all alone."

"Hopefully you'll remember this moment today, when we're all together. Together we can face these things.  We are going to go on this walk, all three hundred of us. We are all going on this walk together, as one.  And if any of you gets cancer, or has a loved one who gets cancer, we are going to be with you too."

"I want you to look to the person on your left, then look to the person on your right, do it now.  If that person were to get cancer, you would support them."

"Physically I want you to stand up, and reach to the person next to you, and I want you to hold hands."

Almost every student present did, teachers and management and parents too.  The whole school, connected, holding hands.

"Emotionally, physically right now we are all together," said Mr. Petluk.  If any one here faces cancer I want you to remember this moment, when we're all physically together.  You are connected to Terry Fox right now.  You are connected to people who have lost loved ones.  To people who have fought cancer.  We are all together right now."

The Matthew Halton students assembled on the field, with the runners going first, followed by those who chose to walk.

On Friday, St. Michael's School students held their own walk around the perimeter of the school grounds, after being reminded that it was not a race or a competition.

At 11:00 Saint Michael's met in front of the school in order to discuss procedure for the Terry Fox Walk. Younger students were paired with older students for their walk, and reminded that it was not a race or competition. Students then travelled around the perimeter of Saint Michael's school.

Upon returning to the front of the school, students were given a chance to win one of two t-shirts, courtesy of the Terry Fox Foundation, in a game of trivia. Throughout this game, details of Terry's inspiring story were given to the crowd as questions were answered.

At the same time, in Lundbreck, Livingstone School students held their walk/run, after an assembly featuring brief speeches and a short documentary about Terry Fox.  A highlight of the Livingstone event was 'Sabe' the school mascot, performing admirably under the hot sun, leading the charge and greeting participants as they finished.

Our next "Out and About" column will have many more photos from this year's Terry Fox runs.

Links and additional sources:
Wikipedia: Terry Fox

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