An evening with Terry Fox's coach 

Fox was always an inspiration, says Bob McGill

While Terry Fox is known around the world for his attempt to run across Canada on a prosthetic leg while raising money for cancer research, Fox was an inspiration - albeit on a much smaller scale - even before he started his Marathon of Hope.

From Grade 8 to 10 Fox was a student and athlete of Bob McGill, and even in those years his determination shone through.

"When you see Terry on those videos now and during his run, and see him talking to the media it's very different than how most people knew him then," said McGill, who will be speaking in Whistler on Saturday evening. "He was very quiet, very shy, very reserved.

"In phys-ed what I first noticed about him was that no matter what activity we were doing, whether it was going for a run or doing an activity, Terry was always the last - the last to finish, the last to be picked. He was one of the smallest, shortest kids I had, and one of the weakest, and when you're a teacher your heart goes out to a young kid like that."

Fox went out for the school's basketball team, which McGill coached. Back then there was less emphasis on participation and more on winning, and Fox spent most of the season on the bench.

"Back then we played 25 games, and practiced or played four or five days a week and his total time on the floor (in Grade 8) was just 12 minutes," said McGill. "Yet he never missed a practice. He was the first one there, the last one to leave. He never belly-ached, he never complained. And in his own quiet way he just tried to work hard and push the other kids along."

Fox practiced in his spare time as well and by Grade 10 he was a leading point guard and co-captain of the team.

"It was through sheer determination and hard work, he wasn't a natural at anything," said McGill.

The same work ethic applied to academics, where McGill had Fox in his science class. Fox went from the kid with the lowest grades who struggled despite his efforts to a place on the honour roll.

Those are the stories that McGill tells at the schools he visits, about the years before Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope.

"Everybody said he couldn't do it, and he went out and showed them," said McGill. "Regardless of what people say, anything is possible if you believe in your dreams and yourself. I mean, look at what this young man accomplished - the Marathon of Hope is still going today."

McGill stayed in touch with Fox through high school. He visited Fox in the hospital when he was diagnosed with cancer, and later after he had his right leg amputated six inches above the knee.

While it was upsetting for Fox at the age of 18 it didn't take him long to start looking around his new world and wonder how he could improve it.

"The thing about Terry is that this was never about him," said McGill. "In the hospital when he was recovering, even then it wasn't about himself. What really hit him was seeing all the young people who had cancer and were giving up, and their friends and family were giving up.

"When I went to see him there he said, 'I don't understand this, what can I do?' I told him to look into his own heart and God or somebody would eventually tell him, which is where the Marathon of Hope started to take shape. He thought, 'If I can get out there and provide hope... to the thousands of people who had cancer, and show them I can do this. And if by doing that I can raise a little money, maybe $1 for everybody out there...' I mean, how pure is that?"

McGill has seen the difference that the Marathon of Hope has made, with hundreds of millions of dollars going towards research that has improved the way cancer is detected and treated.

"Now a young child, if caught in time, with the same kind of cancer that Terry had, has almost a 100 per cent chance of recovery," said McGill.

McGill has done the Terry Fox Run in his hometown the past 28 years, but this year decided to make an exception. He will be speaking at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre on Saturday evening, Sept. 12 as a guest for the local Terry Fun Run.

The minimum suggested donation is $10, which includes a reception, a Q&A with McGill, and a screening of the Terry Fox Movie. Doors open at 6 p.m.

The following day McGill will walk in the Whistler Terry Fox Run, enjoying a view he hasn't seen much since his own kids graduated high school and they stopped coming up to ski every weekend.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said.

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