Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan #4 - Biography on Terry Fox

Note: We recommend that you print this article and distribute it to your students.

Excepts of story by Leslie Scrivener taken from Terry Fox Foundation website (http://www.terryfoxrun.org) Sept 1, 1980

It was a dull day in Northern Ontario when Terry Fox ran his last miles. He had started out strong that morning and felt confident. The road was lined with people shouting, "Don't give up, you can make it!," words that spurred him and lifted his spirits. But he started coughing and felt a pain in his chest. Terry knew how to cope with pain. He'd run through it as he always had before; he'd simply keep going until the pain went away. But the pain didn't go away ....

For 3,339 miles, from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada's eastern most city on the shore of the Atlantic, he'd run through six provinces and now was two-thirds of the way home. He'd run close to a marathon a day, for 144 days. No mean achievement for an able-bodied runner, an extraordinary feat for an amputee.

Terry believed that he had won his fight against cancer, and he wanted to raise money, $1 million perhaps, to fight the disease. There was a second, possibly more important purpose to his marathon: A man is not less because he has lost a leg, indeed, he may be more. Certainly, he showed there were no limits to what an amputee could do. Terry Fox changed people's attitude towards the disabled, and he showed that while cancer had claimed his leg, his spirit was unbreakable.

Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, a community outside of Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. An active teenager involved in many sports, Terry was only 18 years old when he was diagnosed with bone cancer and forced to have his right leg amputated six inches above the knee in 1977. The night before his operation, Terry read an article about an amputee who had competed in the New York Marathon. Indirectly that story, along with Terry's observations of the intense suffering of cancer patients, set the stage for what would ultimately become the most important decision of his young life.

In 1980, Terry Fox inspired the nation by attempting to run across Canada on an artificial leg. He called this quest the Marathon of Hope. Its mission was to raise money and awareness for cancer research. His Marathon of Hope had started as an improbable dream -- two friends, one to drive the van, one to run, a ribbon of highway, and the sturdy belief that they could perform a miracle. With little fanfare, Terry started his journey in St. John's, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980. Although it was difficult to garner attention in the beginning, enthusiasm soon grew, and the money collected along his route began to mount. He ran 43 kilometres a day through Canada's Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario. Though he shunned the notion himself, people were calling him a hero. He still saw himself as simple little Terry Fox, from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, average in everything but determination.

But on September 1st, after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres and 18 miles from Thunder Bay, at the head of Lake Superior, the coughing had stopped, but the dull, blunt pain had not. Doctors in Thunder Bay confirmed that cancer had spread from his legs to his lungs. Terry was forced to stop his run. He phoned his parents who caught the first plane to Thunder Bay. Terry was so weak when he tried to walk across the street to a car so they could get a bite to eat outside the hospital, he collapsed. "The day before I'd run 26 miles and now I couldn't even walk across the street," he said.

For the next 10 months, Terry battled the disease. As he fought for his life, he was honoured with awards: He was the youngest Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's top civilian honour; he was named Newsmaker of the Year by the Canadian Press; he won the Lou Marsh trophy for outstanding athletic achievement; his portrait was hung in the Sports Hall of Fame and letters of encouragement came from around the world; and, most importantly, donations to his Marathon of Hope reached $23.4 million. The Guinness Book of Records named him top fund-raiser. A mountain was named after him in British Columbia. Terry died, his family beside him, June 28, 1981--one month short of his twenty-third birthday. All of Canada mourned. Flags were flown at half-mast. But people didn't forget him and his story didn't end with his death.

The heroic Canadian was gone, but his legacy was just beginning. Terry's dream continues through his family and the Terry Fox Foundation. To date, Terry's Marathon of Hope has raised an estimated $250 million worldwide for cancer research.

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