As immigrants to Canada, we hope Canadians realize what they have. Terry Fox – who in 1980 began a run across the continent on one leg to raise money for cancer research – is a national hero, and more than that, he was made so by the institutions that championed him over the past decades. This says a lot about Canada’s cultural identity and it’s worth pausing to celebrate.
Just over two weeks ago, Mark’s parents visited Paris and Canada for the first time. Ever eager to become more familiar with Canada’s customs, Mark’s dad joined us in the local Terry Fox Run, organized at the Paris High School by two committed citizens, Melanie Chmelik and Kiley Cruikshank. We left BB home with Grandma, packed Moo into a borrowed bike trailer, and plopped our out-of-shape-but-well-intentioned bodies at the start line. We all high-fived at the finish line then went home and ate cake.
Running has always been a part of our relationship. When we met in England, we lived in a small Surrey town called Egham with easy access to a beautiful running trail along the Thames. We ran miles and miles together along that trail training to run the Windsor Half Marathon.
The year we began running, foot-and-mouth disease was spreading amongst hoofed animals in the countryside, so the Queen, wanting to protect the deer population within Windsor Great Park, canceled the race. But Cassie has raised about $4000 for Doctors Without Borders to complete the run, so feeling obligated to her sponsors she enlisted help carting a treadmill out to the local pub where, surrounded by friends and colleagues, she ran that half-marathon and raised another hundred pounds. It marks one of her proudest and weirdest moments.
The next year, just before moving to North America, Mark ran the race properly. Cass had already flown back to the States so sent him a care package for running it on his own. Our individual experiences of training for and running our half-marathons have given each of us a strong sense of accomplishment, and that has cemented running in our memories with fondness.
Once settled in Toronto we ran a little but soon got carried away with life and work and were overwhelmed by the winters during which we found it tricker to maintain a routine.
We’ve mentioned that our move out to Paris was highly motivated by its proximity to nature and prospective running was a part of that, a desire to return to those early easy days of our relationship running trails together. Until we can do that again, we love everything about the Terry Fox Run: the ease of participating, its good cause, the lessons in it for our daughters, the community rallying, its annual mark of changing seasons, and the whole story behind it.
At the race, local politician Dave Levac helped kickoff the event with a small speech where he touched on how important Terry Fox runs are for setting good examples for our children. In a political climate overshadowed by the U.S. election where schoolchildren are legitimately frightened of democratic results, it means a lot that we have this small, wholesome opportunity to show our kids what “good” looks like. Levac said he’d seen more families running together in Paris than anywhere else, and looking around at fellow runners we were heartened by young people setting out to run, bike and ride alongside their parents.
In the past, we have donated hair to Locks of Love, participated in Movember, and volunteered in any other number of ways, but we can’t say we have had a sea change moment the way Terry Fox did when his eyes were opened during his treatment to the suffering of other cancer patients. Not only was he motivated to make a difference and fully committed to his cause, he enjoyed the process and that defines his character.
“I loved it, I enjoyed myself so much and that was what other people couldn’t realize. They thought I was going through a nightmare running all day long.
“People thought I was going through hell. Maybe I was partly, but still I was doing what I wanted and a dream was coming true and that, above everything else, made it all worthwhile to me. Even though it was so difficult, there was not another thing in the world I would have rather been doing.
“I got satisfaction out of doing things that were difficult. It was an incredible feeling. The pain was there, but the pain didn’t matter. But that’s all a lot of people could see; they couldn’t see the good that I was getting out of it myself.” Terry Fox
Looking at the timeline of Terry Fox’s honours, it is clear how his story moved both individuals and institutions who in turn lifted him up and helped him become a national hero through commemorations, honours, dedications, press, programs and the telling of his story again and again. We are proud of Canada for doing this, for focusing on the good, for looking forward optimistically.
While Mark’s parents were visiting we trekked to Toronto to show them our old haunts. Moo had been asking to visit the Bata Shoe Museum for ages so we stopped in on our final morning there.
On the second floor nestled amongst a case of platform shoes, high heels, ballet slippers and boots, a single Adidas sneaker caught our eye. It was basic and unremarkable except for the fact that it sat alone rather than as part of a pair. We quickly realised it was the shoe. The one Terry Fox had hopped along on during his journey across the country on his one good leg.
It was magnificent how much hope a single object can represent, how much meaning it can have to an individual and to a nation. For us personally, running in the Terry Fox race legitimizes our place in Canada. It tells us we belong. Not a dissimilar feeling to when we received our permanent residency cards.
We are grateful to Mel and Kiley for organizing this race for us and the rest of Paris and we look forward to participating as a family, year after year. We already can’t wait for next year.