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YOUR HISTORY: A proud PoCo rallied to support Terry Fox
In this column published in July, I related the story of a determined and driven young man named Terry Fox, who grew up in Port Coquitlam. There have been many articles, books and features already written to tell the story of Terry’s epic journey during that spring and summer of 1980.
What I want to do in this sequel is recount what occurred here in Port Coquitlam during those times.
We saw how sports and athletics were always a big part of Terry’s life. Elaine Cramer, his coach from the local PoCo Pacers track and field club in 1971, remembered how he excelled in the sprints, high jump and shot put.
It was about the same time that Bob McGill, Terry’s Grade 8, 9 and 10 Science and PE teacher at Mary Hill junior high (now Pitt River middle school) encouraged him to try out for other sports besides basketball. With Terry’s typical perseverance and determination, by Grade 10 he had become the basketball team’s co-captain, prompting coach McGill to later say: “Terry was just one of those students who never gave up.”
When Terry was learning how to run on his prosthetic leg after his operation, it was McGill who spent countless hours on the track at Hastings junior secondary (now Maple Creek middle) helping him.
Terry’s life was forever changed after being diagnosed with malignant osteogenic sarcoma in his right leg in March 1977 and subsequently having his limb amputated above the knee. The months of chemotherapy treatments at the B.C. Cancer Clinic in Vancouver, and the suffering of the patients there, especially the young children, made Terry determined to do something, anything to help beat cancer.
Never one to back down from a challenge or adversity, Terry was determined to run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. By Christmas 1979, he had trained for 101 days straight, running between 15 and 25 miles daily, preparing for his cross-country trek. A dance was held in the Mabbett Room at the PoCo rec centre early in 1980 that raised $2,500 to help with expenses for the run.
The Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Run began April 12, 1980 at St. John’s, N.L., without much fanfare in the local newspapers. I found this a little odd until I realized two things: First, hindsight being what it is, I doubt if many of us who didn’t know Terry then knew just how large his achievement would grow to become. Second, in today’s instant-media world, we forget how life was before cellphones and the internet.
As Terry’s cross-country run gathered momentum, local businessman Doug Vater helped organize the Terry Fox Hotline to accept donations locally, and some may recall the large map of Canada tracing the progress of the run set up at Westwood Mall.
A Coquitlam restaurant even invited athletes from the local high schools, SFU, UBC and the BC Lions to raise money by participating in a spaghetti-eating contest — using only chopsticks.
Local children and youth were getting into the fundraising, too, including a young Greg Moore, son of Terry’s PoCo high soccer coach Bruce Moore. The young man who go on to become mayor, along with his friends, collected money in their neighbourhood for the CTV Telethon held in September, shortly after Terry had to end his run outside of Thunder Bay. By the end of October 1980, PoCo residents, businesses and organizations had raised over $160,000 for Terry’s cause.
Sunday, Sept. 15 marks the 33rd annual Terry Fox Hometown Run here in PoCo . Terry stated back in 1980, “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”
And continue it will, until the day we can say we live in a cancer-free world.
Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities’ three heritage groups writes about local history. Bryan Ness is with the Port Coquitlam Heritage Society.