Sunday, December 12, 2010

Terry Fox: Canadian icon

The story the other day about the high school football player dying of cancer reminded me of how sometimes sport becomes much bigger than winning or losing. It made me think about an old post we did over a year ago on the unforgettable one legged, Canadian runner Terry Fox. I'll never forget his Marathon of Hope and how it brought his whole country together in 1980-81.

For those of you who don't remember, Fox ran almost 3,400 miles across Canada, at a time when prosthetic legs were not designed for running, before the cancer spread to his lungs and he was forced to stop. My favorite part of the story was how the story itself unfolded. For the first 2,000 miles, Fox was virtually unknown, save for a few minor sponsors and his friends and family. There was no internet or social media back then. Cable television was in it's infancy. Then, a Toronto promoter had Fox show up at an Argonauts CFL game and do a ceremonial kickoff. The inspired crowd went into a frenzy. From that point on, he became a Canadian icon. People turned to the news every night to see where he was on his journey.

Fox had to abandon his run in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The cancer had spread into his lungs. He had run a total distance equivalent to Miami to Seattle. At that point, he had raised about $2 million dollars. An impromptu telethon was scheduled by a Canadian TV station, where they raised an additional $10 million dollars. It was actually more like a living wake. TV icon Lee Majors came on the show and, in a brilliant quote, called Fox "The real six million dollar man." I believe there was a poll of Canadians naming Fox the most important athlete of the 20th century over such names as Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, and Steve Nash. That's the true greatness of sport. You have by all accounts, a marginal amateur athlete lose his leg and decide he's going to give the world something to remember him by when he's gone. ESPN did a terrific 8 minute piece on the Terry Fox story 25 years later. If you have a couple minutes, I recommend you check it out here...

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