Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981 file photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Robert Barron: Looking back, I wish I had talked to Terry Fox

I was there for the start of this hero’s journey, never expecting the icon he became

I remember first seeing Terry Fox one cold April day in 1980 as some friends and I walked through the downtown streets of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I had heard nothing about this rather earnest-looking young man before and I was curious as to why he and small entourage had gathered under the “Mile Zero” sign in front of city hall, marking the beginning of the long road to B.C. on the other side of Canada from that point, in the cold drizzle and fog.

RELATED: This September, think of Terry and all touched by cancer: Fred Fox

The man, who was wearing just shorts and T-shirt in the dreary weather conditions and had a prosthetic for a leg, intrigued me.

I quickly learned that the then 22 year-old from Port Coquitlam, who had lost his right leg to cancer a few years before, was planning to run across Canada to raise funds and awareness to help fight cancer in his “Marathon of Hope”.

There were few people around that day other than Terry’s small crew that would accompany him on his journey, one or two local news reporters and few “looky-loos” like me that were out braving the elements and just happened to be walking by when Terry was preparing to begin his run.

There were certainly no huge crowds of runners and supporters joining him at this early stage of his historic journey as they would later; just him alone hopping along in the lop-sided gait that we all know so well today.

I watched him for some time as he disappeared into the fog.

I remember turning to one of my friends at the time and asking how far he thinks this guy will make it.

We agreed that he wouldn’t likely make it to the end of the city, much less across Canada.

That was the last I heard of Terry Fox for several weeks and I assumed that my friend and I were right and he packed up his bags soon after leaving St. John’s and went home.

But then I started seeing news stories from the Maritimes about Terry that showed him making his way along the side of the highway with that same look of grim determination on his face that I recognized.

I was pleased to see that as he ran across the Atlantic provinces, more and more people were paying attention and were coming out to run with him as he passed through their communities.

I got caught up in the drama of it all and would watch the news every evening in anticipation of the latest information on Terry; on where he was and how well he was being received by bigger and bigger crowds all the time.

RELATED: Terry Fox was a true Canadian hero

When he was taken to hospital in Thunder Bay as he was passing through that community in Ontario, I thought that whatever the problem was, this tank of a man would overcome it and make it all the way back to his home.

To this day, I’m astounded at just how devastated I felt when Terry held a press conference to say that his cancer had returned and he had to give up his run.

I remember watching him as tears fell down his cheeks and he couldn’t find the words to express his frustration and grief through the deep emotions he was obviously feeling.

I never personally met the man, but I got choked up myself and it took a few minutes to regain my composure.

Today, Terry Fox symbolizes all that is good in humanity and there are statues of him across the country and world immortalizing his strength and determination.

I only wish I has talked to him when I had the chance.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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