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Feature-The run never ends

Terry Fox’s legacy continues in India, carried on by a former classmate

By Janet Love Morrison

"You’re going to miss all the grad parties."

Those are the words I said to Darrell Fox in May of 1980. Darrell was travelling back east to meet his older brother Terry, who was running across the nation to raise money for cancer research.

We could not believe Darrell was going to miss all our graduation celebrations. None of us, including Terry, had any inclination of the legacy he was about to embrace. Today the Terry Fox Run is held in 52 countries and is the single largest fund-raiser for cancer research in the world.

Terry was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) in his right leg in 1977. The night before his surgery our physical education teacher, Terry Flemming, gave Terry a magazine about an amputee who had run the New York Marathon. This was the impetus for Terry’s Marathon of Hope. His objective was to raise awareness among Canadians of the critical need to find a cure for cancer. He ran an average of 47 kilometres every day for 143 days. He was forced to end his run in Thunder Bay, Ontario, due to the return of cancer. He died June 28, 1981.

In May of 2000 I saw Darrell at our high school reunion in Port Coquitlam. Darrell is now the national director of the Terry Fox Foundation and the name of our school has been changed to Terry Fox Senior Secondary. In our conversation I mentioned to Darrell that I was off to India to teach at an international school.

"You’re going to do the run, aren’t you?" he asked.

"Yes, of course I am," I said.

How I was going to pull it together in a community where I did not know a single soul was going through my mind, but I did not mention my challenges to Darrell.

When I arrived in Kodaikanal, in India, I contacted the Terry Fox Foundation in Toronto. Shortly after I received participation certificates, posters, and video tapes – all the tools I needed to promote the run. I contacted the Rotary Club of Kodaikanal and introduced myself to Mr. Sam Babu, International Director, and Mrs. Rani Rajendran, President. Sam and Rani became my local contacts. They spoke with school principals, organized our presentations, translated, and committed themselves to the project.

There were many moments when I wondered what on earth had compelled me to take on something so huge in a new community, but each time I walked into a room filled with children my energy was completely restored.

The first school Sam and I visited was Bhavan’s Gandhi Vidyasaram. I heard Terry’s voice as I entered the main hall – the students were watching the video. Approximately 200 pairs of brown eyes stared at me as I entered the room and sat down.

I panicked. I hadn’t rehearsed anything to say.

After the video Sam stood up and introduced me to the students. I walked to the front of the room, turned around, and started to talk about Terry’s dream to find a cure for cancer. BGV is an English speaking school so Sam did not need to translate. A young girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old, sitting in the second row, began to cry. A wave came over me; this was all pretty close to home. My father and Terry are buried in the same cemetery.

For a brief moment I looked at the floor, took a deep breath, smiled at that little girl and then carried on. When I finished I asked the students how many would be interested in participating. Ninety-nine per cent put up their hands. I was stunned.

Over the next few weeks Rani, Sam, and I went to nine different schools in the district. While The Rotary Club worked with the local media, police, and businesses, I met with my colleagues who had graciously volunteered to assist with the logistics. First I had to find a hospital that met the strict regulations required by the Canadian Cancer Society to be the recipient of the money. I chose the Christian Medical College in Vellore, near Chennai. I sent their institutional profile to Canada and the CMC was approved.

I was thrilled that a hospital in our state, Tamil Nadu, would receive the money. CMC has been called the best hospital east of the Suez. Due to the variety of illnesses and the sheer number of patients, its standard of post graduate medical education may not be equalled – even in the West.

Finally it came: Sunday, March 25, 2001, the day of our run. Our school maintenance workers had set up the field. The start banner was in place, the information booth was set up, and the sound system was operating (with a back up generator, as power outages are quite common). We were ready.

The course would take runners twice around the lake. The Rotary Club had made arrangements with the local police to close the road to traffic. Everyone was arriving and getting into place. I looked up at the sky. It had not rained for a couple of months and dark clouds were gathering on the horizon.

"Please hold off for just a few hours," I muttered to myself.

A couple of travellers approached me and asked if I was from Canada.

"Yes" I answered.

"So are we. We were just walking by and we can’t believe there’s a Terry Fox Run here. How did this happen?"

I gave them a quick synopsis, but things were starting to get busy and I didn’t have too much time to talk.

"Are you going to participate?" I asked.

"No," they answered. "We’re too lazy. But we’ll give you some money."

I laughed and admired their honesty.

Anticipation was growing. At the entrance to the field, Bryan a science teacher from California, showed up on a horse.

Then our mayor, Kurian Abraham, arrived and stepped up to the podium to make an opening speech. When he finished all the participants headed across the field to the start banner. I had painted the banner a few days before. Right now I was hoping the paint was water proof.

The opening shot was fired and approximately 370 people ran under the banner in Kodaikanal’s first ever Terry Fox Run. There were students of all nationalities, in different shapes and sizes wearing saris, school uniforms, and western clothes.

After the participants had left the starting line, my assigned bean-counters calculated that an estimated RS81,000 ($2,000) had been pledged. I was over the moon. My goal had been half that amount.

One principal gave me RS300 ($9) that his students had raised. He was so proud of their efforts. I was pleased his school was participating and that they were not intimidated by the more affluent schools.

I jumped on my bike to do a quick lap. I wanted to see how everyone was managing on the course. They were smiling and waving as I was peddling by them. The spirit of Terry was right there in that moment. These kids were having so much fun, and at the same time, consciously aware of their individual contribution.

When I arrived back at the field raindrops began to fall. In seconds it was a downpour. All I could think about were the kids getting soaking wet and catching colds.

The first runners were coming in and they were soaked to the skin – but they had huge smiles on their faces.

"Don’t worry Ms. Love, we’re okay. Besides, the first rain of the monsoon is an auspicious sign!"

We decided to send out a bus to offer rides to the smaller children and anyone else who chose to get out of the rain. Within 45 minutes everyone was back and assembled on the field. Rani held the umbrella over my head while I made a thank-you speech to all the wonderful people who helped and to all those who had participated.

"Terry would be proud of each and every one of you for accepting the challenge to raise funds for cancer research so that his dream, and indeed our dream, of finding a cure for cancer will become a reality," I told them.

It was over. I stood quietly, watching the kids dancing in the rain.

"I don’t feel that this is unfair. That’s the thing about cancer; I’m not the only one. It happens all the time to other people. I’m not special. This just intensifies what I did – it gives it more meaning. It will inspire more people. I just wish that people would realize that anything’s possible if they try, that dreams are made if people try." — Terry Fox

"Terry Fox’s race is over. In fact, he never finished the course; none of us do. What is important is the running. What is important is to set goals. What is important is not to quit, not ever. What is important is to run well and honestly, with as much human grace as possible – not forgetting, too, to take joy in the running, to laugh at life’s absurdities as well as weep at its cruelties." — The Globe and Mail, July 1, 1981

Sept. 18, 1980 — Terry Fox becomes the youngest Companion of the Order of Canada in a special ceremony in his hometown of Port Coquitlam.

December 1990 — The Sports Network (TSN) names Terry Fox "Athlete of the Decade." The field included Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan.