Monday, September 20, 2010


Yesterday, people across Canada participated in the Terry Fox Run. If you're not from Canada, I'd like to tell you a bit about Terry, because he's my favourite national hero.

Terry Fox was just a teenager when cancer—osteosarcoma, specifically—took one of his legs. A devoted athlete, Terry became a wheelchair basketball star and once he was fitted with an artificial leg, he resumed distance running.

Still just in his early 20s, Terry became increasingly angry about how little money was being spent on cancer research. It's amazing to think about that today, when cancer fundraising has reached epic proportions. But 30 years ago, one young man decided to make a huge difference.

He planned and initiated a run across Canada. There was little fanfare. He dipped his leg in the Atlantic ocean near St. John's, Newfoundland, and started running. His only support was his brother and his buddy Doug, who followed him in their van. His original goal was just to raise one million dollars for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Terry ran through bad weather and past rude motorists in Quebec, who told him to get off the road. (A couple of BC boys, Terry and his brother never even considered a need for French advance PR.) But by the time he reached Ontario, Terry had become a popular phenomenon. He was given a police escort to protect him from growing crowds of onlookers and distracted drivers, and made his way to Ottawa where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Trudeau and the Governor General. Then he kept going.

It occurred to me this morning that a good number of my agency colleagues had not even been born in 1980, when Terry Fox was on the road. But I was 10, and my family had to drive past the Marathon of Hope along the Trans-Canada Highway on our way to our cottage in Sault Ste. Marie. I remember lots of traffic, police cars with their lights on, and a lot of commotion. I think I remember seeing Terry, but I have seen news footage of him so many times, it could be that which is burned into my brain. But at least I had a brush with history.

And history it would soon be. Terry only made it as far as Thunder Bay. Well, perhaps "only" is an understatement, since he had run 5,373 kilometres on his artificial leg! But his cancer, always lurking, had spread to his lungs. He had to call off the run. He died the next year.

But he started something huge. It wasn't the tragedy that got people's attention, it was his tenacity. Terry saw something wrong with the world, and took it on with nothing more than guts and ambition. In a world of traditional media, he earned attention and money for his cause the hard way, by just dragging himself out onto that highway every day until his body couldn't take it anymore.

Thirty years later, the Terry Fox Run is the world's largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research. Over half a billion dollars has been raised in his name for cancer research.

So as you sit in front of your computer today, and engage in your Facebook, Twitter and Blogular slacktivism just like I do, take a minute to ask yourself: what you would really be willing to do to save the world?

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