Rooted is all about the people and the places that make us proud to call our community home.
Since 1985 North Bay residents have been participating in the local Terry Fox run. Celebrating the 38th run locally this coming Sunday, the foundation is eager to add to its total of $556,000 locally to help with cancer research.
“When he first started, all he asked for was $1 from every Canadian,” says Carla Tucker, the local foundation organizer.
“With his team, they carried buckets with them to collect coins from people all along the road. He was able to touch so many lives and one of his favourite quotes was, “this must go on” and so that call to action is really what spurred it on.”
Fox passed away in June of 1981, and local runs started in different communities throughout the country that exact same year, with the national run now marking the 42nd anniversary in 2022.
“After his passing, it was his family that created the foundation and, I think that is why this foundation does as well as it does. It’s amazing to me that he started this little run with a few people and how much it has blown up all over the world now,” says Tucker, who herself participated in a run overseas.
“When I lived in Dubai for some time, they had a Terry Fox run and that was quite an experience to do the run there because it was stinking hot, but also neat to see that event happening outside of Canada. We hear about it happening in other parts of the world but it is so uniquely a Canadian thing.”
In fact last year there were 42 Terry Fox Runs in 21 countries which supported research in 13 countries outside of Canada and nearly $500,000 was raised, according to the Foundations International Run Director Peter Sheremeta.
Tucker says it is the human element of Fox’s story, which keeps people and especially children connected to the foundation year after year.
“He becomes an instant hero to children across this country,” says Tucker.
“I think that in turn re-lights a fire in the parents who remember studying him in their youth and participating in those runs. There are also the parents and the grandparents who remember seeing him when he ran through their town and remember the day he died and all of those things. So Terry’s story is really a family, inter-generational, cultural story that keeps people motivated. As long as the schools teach about him and his story, we’re going to see that in all generations. Terry was someone that was really human to so many people. He was just a guy from a small town, doing his thing.”
Born and raised in North Bay, Tucker says the opportunity to oversee the local run came up shortly after she returned to the Gateway City after living away for a few years following her post-secondary schooling.
“I returned to North Bay around eight years ago and I’ve been with the North Bay Terry Fox run for seven years,” she says.
“One of my good friends from North Bay was the coordinator for the run in Oakville for a number of years. She knew I was moving back here and that the local foundation was looking for someone to possibly take over with Ken Hastie looking to step aside as the coordinator.”
Tucker says she put her name out there and with a group of friends who supported her, was able to step in with a smooth transition of the responsibilities.
“In fact, some of the friends from that group are still with me seven years later helping me make sure this run happens every year,” she says.
“It’s really been a team effort from the get-go, otherwise it would’ve been hard to be reintroduced to the community and take on something like this without the help.”
Like many people, Tucker also has been touched by cancer, which fuels her passion for promoting the local run.
“While I was overseas, my father had battled cancer and won and so taking on this role became a lot more personal for me, to see what I could do in terms of fundraising and helping to find cures for cancers,” she says.
“One of my favourite parts about working the run every year is that we get to hear everyone’s stories. Everyone wants to talk about Terry Fox and how he impacted their life, whether they saw him running or just their own personal stories of loss and survival and those are really the big motivators for me to stick with this, as well as the reputation of the foundation. It speaks for itself; I really don’t have to explain things when I say I’m with the foundation, which is a bonus as well.”
Seventy-nine cents from every dollar goes right into the researcher's pocket in those efforts to find a cure, but Tucker says the community run is really about the community spirit and keeping Fox’s story alive.
“I have people who bring up the fact they want to come but they are concerned that they won’t be able to keep up with the run. We explain that it is not a race, in fact, dogs participate, people take their kids in strollers – this is all ages, and it's all for fun,” says Tucker.
“We also aren’t insisting that you come and register to raise funds. None of that is watched closely, and at the end of the day, we just want you to be there to support the event. The money is great and the research it goes towards is so important, but we also want that community spirit to take part and the word of his story to perpetuate. That to me is just as important. It’s really a time of reflection.”
There is a lot to reflect on what the 18-year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba accomplish through his Marathon of Hope. For one thing, there is the remarkable athletic achievement of what he did.
“He got up every day and ran close to 42 kilometers on one leg – not many athletes can say they do that today, even with the advancement of different athletic technology,” says Tucker.
“The technology in his prosthetic leg and the shoes he was wearing were not even close to the calibre that athletes today train and perform in. I’ve met a lot of elite athletes and runners who come out to the walk/run and they tell me that this is what they think about when they are competing. When they need that push they think about the pure athleticism that Terry had to do what he did, it’s mind-boggling. And he did it in all types of weather and conditions. Running on paved roads, dirt roads, up hills, it’s quite amazing.”
Tucker adds, “Children don’t quite get the concept of what it means to actually run across an entire country but as you get older and you realize how far just one kilometre is you really understand how impressive it is.”
He also accomplished all of this and gained national attention at a time before he could spread the word of what he was doing across social media and the Internet.
“You look at the early days of his run with just him and his immediate family and it was something that was very slowly being picked up by the traditional media. It didn’t have this huge outlet of support when it started because he didn’t have the option to put it out on social media or to make anything go viral. He just started doing it and the crowds eventually started to grow as well,” says Tucker, who adds, in the last few years, that venue of new age media helped the foundation continue to raise funds when there was no in-person event.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic we were able to do virtual runs and I was so impressed seeing the money that came in and the number of participants.”
As a spin-off effect of that, this year, the foundation is going cash-less, so that people can donate online at anytime.
Tucker says this is just one charitable organization in the community that is always looking to add members.
“Ultimately you’re getting behind something that you stand for and that you think is valuable and trying to make that small difference. We live in a global community and whatever it is that you are passionate about, whatever it is that you want to support, it introduces you to a community of like-minded people, and that is an inspiration in and of itself,” says Tucker.
“If it weren’t for the community that supports this run every year, my job wouldn’t be half as valuable as it is personally. We’re all going to be touched by cancer, whether directly or indirectly and that makes the need for a cure the most important thing for why we do this year after year.”
The North Bay Terry Fox Run and Walk takes place on Sunday, September 18th at 8:30 a.m. at the North Bay Waterfront Marina.
If you have a story idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected].