On the Road with Terry Fox

Nine year old Kerry Anne Holloway spent the summer of 1980 driving across Central Canada.   Her dad, Bill Vigars, worked for the Canadian Cancer Society as a publicist and he decided to take his kids on a road trip for work.  The gig was acting as the public relations organizer for Terry Fox on his now historic run from the Atlantic Ocean to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Kerry Anne is now a registered clinical counsellor living in Burnaby.   She learned early of the importance of devoting herself to caring about other people.  April 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s cross-country fundraising effort to raise $1.00 for every Canadian for cancer research.  Friday, Debby, our grade 2 teacher, organized for Kerry Anne to come and talk to our students before the annual “Toonies for Terry” Run for Cancer Research.   The reaction to Terry Fox presentations by the people in the room is always fascinating.  Many of us who followed Terry on the t.v. and radio and cheered him during his Marathon of Hope, have the emotional response triggered by the memory of a special friend or relative who is remembered with affection and the very personal sadness of loss.  For our students, he is a historical figure.  A Canadian hero.  A guy you want to be like.  Terry Anne’s task is big, to inject the humanity into the legend. 

 Kerry Anne is one of those people who remember what it’s like to be a kid.  She is able to reach back in her memory and pull out the things that matter to kids.  She shared how he ate TONS of food and that when they went into a restaurant, it seemed like he was ordering a whole page from the menu.  That they had food fights.  That her and her brother brought him oranges and water.  That he was nice to her.  That he LOVED basketball and would play it when he was taking a break from running.  That he was never the best player as a kid but loved to play.  That when he got older, he wanted to be a P.E. teacher.

Our students knew Terry dipped his toe in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s Newfoundland and then ran for 143 days for the  5,373 kilometers to Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Kerry Anne put it in understandable terms.  He ran 4 Vancouver Sun Runs everyday.  20 kilometers before breakfast.  10 kilometers before lunch.  10 kilometers after he had a nap.  Rain or shine, he was out there.  He went through 9 running shoes.  That he had a sock on his prosthetic leg that he grew VERY attached to and that you can see in Ottawa.  She shared he would be really tired at night so the rule was that they were not allowed to bug him after 8 pm.  Once her brother went in to chat with Terry and one of the adults came and knocked on the door.  Terry quickly hid her brother under the bed so that neither of them would get into trouble.  He was a guy who had your back.

Kerry Anne talked about the things that inspired Terry.  On August 27th in Terrance Bay, Ontario, Gray Scott of Welland, showed up to ride his bike beside Terry.  Greg rode behind Terry for 6 kilometers.  Greg had also lost his leg to bone cancer.  For Terry, this was one of the most inspirational moments and one that brought him to tears when he talked about it.

The kids in both the primary and intermediate audience ate up everything Kerry Anne had to share.  When a question came up that she didn’t know the answer, one of the kids in the audience did.  One on the emergent readers in the audience excitedly threw up his hand to report that the words Terry Fox were on the picture of his van.  Another little girl nicely summarized her learning for all of us:  “Terry Fox never give up.”

Kerry Anne shared a lot of the things she learned on her recent trip the Canadian Museum of History (previously the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in Ottawa.   The Fox family lent more than 200,000 items to the museum, including the jug he filled with water from the Atlantic at the beginning of his run, his own Marathon of Hope t-shirt, his Team Canada hockey jersey from Bobby Orr, his runners and his prosthetic leg with the modifications he made for comfort.  She also shared one of the letters that she wrote to Terry detailing how her brother was always wanting to watch Mash on t.v. and that there were better things they could be watching.  She told us she did a search and found her letter in the Canadian Museum of History Archives.  The museum has scanned and made accessible many of the letters that school children wrote to Terry Fox and other key documents.  Clearly this will be something we will be interested in pursuing.

My favorite story was about Kerry Anne and her brother fighting in the car one day.  Kerry Anne remembers the adult response, “Be quiet and watch Terry run.  You are never going to see anything like this again.”  And she hasn’t.

Terry Fox died on September 1, 1980 and left us with a challenge:  “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue.  It’s got to keep going without me.”  On Feb. 5, 1981, Canada’s population reached 24.1 million people and the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope raised $24.17 million.  Every year people in almost 25 countries participate in runs and fundraisers to raise money for cancer research.  So far over $600 million has been raised in Terry’s name.  You can add another $807.00 to that.  Way to go Tecumseh Elementary students for keeping the dream alive.


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