Marathon of Hope started with less than a mile

Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope didn’t start with the first 26.2-mile day he ran on April 12, 1980

Terry Fox runs near the family’s Morrill Street home in Port Coquitlam as he prepared for the 1980 Marathon of Hope. On April 4

Terry Fox runs near the family’s Morrill Street home in Port Coquitlam as he prepared for the 1980 Marathon of Hope. On April 4

By  Sarah Payne

Black Press

Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope didn’t start with the first 26.2-mile day he ran on April 12, 1980, on the east coast of Canada.

It started, many months earlier, with just a quarter of a mile.

Over tahe following weeks, he built up to a mile, then a few more until, eventually, he was running five, six, seven miles a day, said his younger brother, Darrell Fox.

“We weren’t aware of Terry’s plans until the Prince George-to-Boston race in September of 1979 — he kept it a secret,” Fox recalled. “We thought he was training for the Vancouver marathon… He lied because he had to convince himself, he had to believe he could do it before he shared it with his immediate family.”

That first quarter-mile was on the track at Hastings junior secondary, now Maple Creek middle school, near the family’s home in Port Coquitlam. Tucked away at the end of Hastings Street and sheltered by the green belt running along the Coquitlam River, the track was somewhat hidden.

“Terry was initially shy,” Fox said. “It was so unusual for someone to show themselves running, let alone walking, on an artificial leg.”

Nor did Terry have the benefit of a specialized physiotherapist to help him find his stride with the apparatus.

It was a learning curve that provided few highlights. There were mechanical malfunctions. Terry stumbled, he fell. Some of the school kids teased him.

But as the blows piled up, so did the miles.

Terry progressed from running a lap around the track to running the streets of PoCo, then Coquitlam, then Port Moody, until he was hitting his 10-mile route so consistently that he repeated it twice and three times a day, sometimes with an extra three or four miles at the end.

Hedy Davidson remembers those days well. She was a couple of years younger than Terry and her family’s living room window looked into the Fox family’s backyard.

Davidson (Blom at the time) knew Terry as the neighbourhood athlete, the kid who rallied the rest of them into games of tag and street hockey, whether you wanted to play or not.

She also knew Terry had lost his leg to cancer — neighbours had fundraised for a specialized wheelchair so he could keep playing basketball at SFU — but not about his plans for the Marathon of Hope.

“Our first indication that something had changed with Terry was a workout bench and a stack of weights in the backyard,” Davidson said. “You could really see him working hard at it. And we knew something was up.

“Then he ran around the block and I went, ‘Wow, that kid’s really sweating.’ Then he ran around the block twice, then he ran around the neighbourhood. The next thing you know, you’re seeing that funny hop-step run all over the place.”

It wasn’t until Davidson and her family saw the news footage of Terry dipping his leg in the Atlantic Ocean, however, that they realized the magnitude of what “the neighbourhood kid” was doing.

“I think it took the country a little bit to cotton on to this little fella with one leg who wanted to change the face of cancer,” Davidson said.

Steve Marshall lived on Glen Drive back then and, as a fellow athlete about the same age, knew Terry was particularly determined. But determined enough to run across Canada?

“I thought it was just an amazing undertaking,” Marshall said. “But thinking about it now, it’s just phenomenal.”

He remembers seeing Terry in training and chatting with him at the end of the driveway about what he hoped to accomplish.

“Back then, when you’re that age, you kind of believe you’re invincible and I thought, ‘If he really thinks he can do it and sets his mind to it, well, good on you, maybe he will.’”

It took 3,060 miles of training through the Tri-Cities and beyond for Terry to be ready for the Marathon of Hope and, on April 4 of this year, the public had a chance to run in those same footsteps in the Terry Fox Training Run.

Darrell Fox has driven the 16-km route in the weeks and months leading up to and in preparation for the event, and while the small houses on large lots have given way to highrises, the pavement is the same.

“Glen Drive is still Glen Drive. Ioco Road, Patricia, Hastings — they’re still there as they were in 1979,” Fox said. “I think it’s kind of been left that way for all of us to join Terry, to go for a run on the pavement he trained on.”


On Sept. 20, the Community of Barriere Terry Fox Run will take place at the Barriere Bandshell.  Registration is at 10 a.m. with the walk, run or ride starting at 11 a.m. To purchase a t-shirt, make a donation or for more information contact Kathy at 250-672-5758.