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Terry Fox: Not Who I Expected

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I was watching the movie Adaptation starring Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage (it will make sense if you watch the movie). Anyway, it was a great movie but one small piece of dialogue stuck with me.

It involved a scene where one of Cage’s characters is interviewing Streep’s character and asks her if there was any historical figure – alive or dead – that she could have dinner with, who would it be? The answer in the movie is irrelevant but I highly recommend you ask yourself the same question because it will offer you an interesting look into…well, yourself. The key is to go with your first instinct and then dissect your reason for picking that person.

The answer that almost immediately popped into my head surprised even me. It wasn’t one of the usual suspects like Michael Jackson or Hulk Hogan (although these remain tempting substitute picks). My answer was Terry Fox. Yes, the same Terry Fox that lost his leg to cancer as a teenager and then proceeded to launch a daunting campaign in the early 1980s to walk across Canada in an effort to raise money for cancer research. Yes, the same Terry Fox that ultimately succumbed to a relapse of this disease about halfway through his journey but still managed to turbo charge fundraising efforts for cancer research.

While he is a more than worthy selection for a fantasy dinner conversation, I still thought to myself, “Why him?” And with that I was on another journey of self discovery. It’s always interesting to have a conversation with yourself, as your active mind talks to your subconscious mind. I’ll spare you the details as to how I arrived at my conclusions, including a long winded side conversation where my active mind blamed my subconscious mind for “always holding us back” and stick to the key questions and my thoughts for asking them.

Question 1:
How did you conceive of such a grand idea in those days after your recovery? What I mean by this is, was it an epiphany, a message from a phantom in a dream or did one of your buddies make an offhand comment and all of a sudden it hits you?

My Thinking:
Now here is a guy who was leading an active life as a typical teenage guy: playing sports, hanging with friends and chasing girls. Then all of a sudden, his world comes crashing down as he’s told he has a life threatening disease, which in order to be stopped, means the sacrifice of his leg. So he faces his demon and pushes through the therapy, the amputation and the rehabilitation. And remember, he’s only 18 years old. When I was 18, I sat around stressing about things as trivial as whether I would pass my Economics class…and I had two good legs.

I’ve read Terry was motivated to take action after seeing the suffering of cancer patients while he was in the hospital, particularly children. But I want to know how he attached the need to do something for this cause with an ambitious plan to run across Canada.

Instead of wallowing in depression and self pity like a lot of us (myself included) would, Terry Fox decides to embark on a cross country marathon with the goal of raising one dollar for every Canadian (22 million at the time), beginning by dipping his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean and ending by dipping the same leg in the Pacific Ocean. This was also the year 1980 when a marathon like this wasn’t a yet yearly occurrence as it is today. Terry Fox’s “Marathon of Hope” was an ambitious and unique undertaking that inspired many similar ventures for charity in the years to follow.

Question 2:
What kept you going? What motivated you when guys like me would have looked at my brother the morning of day three and said, “Hey, screw this. If turn this van South, we’ll be in Daytona by tomorrow.”

My Thinking:
Canada isn’t the easiest terrain to traverse, especially for a novice long distance runner. This is also an era when things like air cushioned soles and Gore-Tex were in their infancy. When he began, there was barely any media attention and a lot of the time it was just Terry running alone. So he’s by himself for most of the time he’s running, with rudimentary equipment and with pain coursing through his body. But he relentlessly drove onward. It’s amazing when you think about it.

Despite his will and resolve, he succumbed to cancer when it relapsed and took him down, just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario…about halfway through his journey. I’d love to know what pushed him, what got him out of bed every morning, what drove him forward. A guy like that conjures up one word descriptions like “amazing,” “unyielding” and even “enigmatic.” That’s a guy I’d like to share a steak and a drink with.

The way his Marathon of Hope gained momentum, the way he raised money and awareness for cancer and even the prolific way he lost his battle is what brought Terry Fox’s name into my head when Cage’s character asked that question. He took up the fight against cancer, threw it on his shoulders and created a movement (and it is a movement) that reverberates today, as strong or even stronger than it was when Terry was alive. The dollars raised built facilities, bought equipment and led to investment in research that has helped humankind battle back against one of its worst diseases. This was Livestrong without the yellow bracelet and star power. Stop and think about what he was able to accomplish, about what he was able to put into motion in such a short time. Terry Fox truly is a Legend.

(Actually, I found out that September 18th is the annual Terry Fox Run to raise money for cancer research, which has raised $360 million worldwide since the first run in 1981. Its always interesting whenever random thoughts and real life events converge.)

Getting back to the dinner context, you simply know a guy like this has that “there’s something about him” factor. You know it would be an engaging conversation. You know you’d learn something profound by the time it was over. I guess that’s yet another reason why Terry Fox’s name that entered my head when I heard that question. Figuring out why was almost just as rewarding as having dinner with him. I recommend trying it for yourself.

Unfortunately, this conversation will never happen because he passed away years ago. So unless Terry’s hanging out somewhere in the Caribbean with Tupac and Elvis, it’s time to call up my number two, Sylvester Stallone. But I’ll save that list of questions for another day.

– Hardy

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