Honouring a hero

George Maratos was just three years old when Terry Fox was becoming a household name across Canada and elsewhere.

Still, he claims to have a “kind of” memory of the young B.C. runner’s heroic 1980 odyssey known as the Marathon of Hope.

“My parents were gripped by it, and I have a feeling that kind of resonated with me,” he says.

Fox was a basketball player and long-distance runner studying kinesiology at Simon Fraser University and hoping to become a physical education teacher.

Then, a few months short of his 19th birthday, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which resulted in the amputation of his right leg just above the knee. Three weeks after the operation, he was walking again with the assistance of an artificial leg.

That was in 1977, the year Maratos was born.

That year, Fox joined Rick Hansen’s wheelchair basketball team, with which he would win three national championships, and later became a North American Wheelchair Basketball Association all-star.

While undergoing a year-and-a-half of chemotherapy, he conceived  conceive an ambitious plan to give something back to medical science that would also give hope and support to his fellow cancer patients.

He would run across Canada, east to west, with the hope of raising $1 million for cancer research. He later increased that goal to $10 million, and eventually to $24 million, representing $1 for each Canadian at that time.

On April 12, 1980, Fox dipped his prosthesis into the Atlantic Ocean as the symbolic beginning of an 8,000-km trek toward the Pacific. For the next 143 days, he maintained a gruelling daily pace of 42 km — the equivalent of running a marathon every single day.

On September 1, just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, the run came to a sudden halt when Fox was admitted to hospital with chest pains and a wracking cough.

The next day, he told a stunned nation his cancer had returned and moved into his lungs. On June 28, 1981 — exactly one month short of his 23rd birthday — Terry Fox died in New Westminster, B.C.

Before he was forced to end his run, his efforts had raised $1.7 million for cancer research. Since then, more than $650 million has been raised in his name, mostly through non-competitive running and walking events held each year in as many as 60 different countries.

For the past eight years, Maratos has headed up the group of volunteers that puts together the annual Terry Fox Run in Whitehorse. His involvement started almost by accident.

“I wasn’t aware the run was happening. I was just walking by and saw a small gathering of folks and kind of thought, ‘I think we can make this bigger,’ and mentioned that,” he says.

“Eight years later, here I am organizing the event.”

This year’s run takes place Sunday, September 20, with registration starting at noon in the new sheltered area of Rotary Peace Park and the run itself kicking off at 1 p.m.

“You can rollerblade, you can walk, you can bike, you can run. It’s just a loop of the Millennium Trail, so it’s really accessible for all types,” Maratos says.

Registration is free, but organizers hope to raise $10,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation through donations.

Average turnout has been about 250 in recent years, but with added attention to the fact this is the national event’s 35th anniversary, Maratos is looking to attract as many as 500 participants this time around.

“We have a live band that’s going to be there, and we have a barbecue ever year. It’s a real family-friendly event. It’s more about just coming out and supporting the cause and remembering Terry Fox for the person he was.”

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