September is the time of year when Terry Fox Runs are held all across Canada and beyond, with ordinary people walking and running to raise money for cancer research. No doubt you’ve been reading in your local newspaper about a Terry Fox Run in your area in recent days. (The official day for the event this year was Sept. 14, but as far as I can tell the run in many places is held around that general time as opposed to on that specific date.)
As I’m sure every Canadian knows, the run commemorates and honours the late Terry Fox, a young man from Port Coquitlam, B.C. who, having himself lost a leg to bone cancer at the age of 18, in April 1980 undertook what seemed like the crazy project of running (or in his case, given his artificial leg, run/hopping) all across Canada to raise money to help others who would go through the kind of thing he had. He started in St. John’s, Nfld., with pretty much nobody paying any attention. But as he made his way westward at a pace of 26 miles (a marathon‘s worth) a day, people started taking notice of what he called his Marathon of Hope, and by the time he got to Ontario he was pretty much a household name. Then in September of that year, having reached Thunder Bay, Ont., he had to stop; the cancer had returned. He died on June 28, 1981. He was only 22 years old.
The runs that have taken place in September ever since then have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and Terry Fox has been an inspiration to all of Canada. More than 30 years since his death, I think we tend to think of him more as an idealized icon than as an actual living person – a skinny kid with a crazy dream.
And so it was with a poignant delight that I discovered that my friends at CHTV cable TV in nearby Madoc, Terry and Eileen Pigden, had recently restored and posted video footage from the day in 1980 when Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope took him through that town. There Terry Fox is again – not really large as life, but small as life; he really was a skinny kid. His natural charm, good humour and patience come though so well as a slightly awkward but cute young lad (Peter Sutton, according to the credits) asks the celebrity visitor a series of questions (with some prompting from onlookers off to the side). You can see Terry’s shy pride when he says that his original goal of raising $1 million might be beaten, that it could go as high as $10 million. If only he could have known that, as of 2014, more than $650 million has been raised in his name!
There’s a cheque presentation, hand-shaking, and Terry the self-possessed skinny kid being Terry the self-possessed skinny kid. He talks about what it’s like to run or walk with an artificial leg, about how it can be hard to get out of bed every day at 4 a.m. knowing he has to run yet another 26 miles. He tells the group assembled on St. Lawrence Street East that as of Madoc he’d covered 2,031 miles; apparently he was keeping track of every one.
I’ve written before (notably here) about the wonderful work that Terry and Eileen Pigden do in attending community events throughout this area, filming them, and posting them online, thus preserving them for posterity and allowing people from all over the world to enjoy them vicariously. But another important part of what they are doing is finding great footage shot in years past by Terry and his father, Gordon Pigden (it was Gord who filmed Terry Fox), restoring it, and sharing that, too. This is priceless local history, and I think the Terry Fox video is a particularly wonderful example of that. It brings the real Terry Fox back to us.
Gord Pigden’s video captures Terry, as he prepares to take his leave of Madoc and run on west, saying: “I’m trying to be an example, and a good example, to people.”
Mission accomplished, Terry. And in preserving that moment for us: mission accomplished, Gord, Terry and Eileen Pigden. Thank you to you all.