By Ian Harvey Principal Curator
Most Canadians are genuinely proud and protective of Terry Fox’s legacy and are excited when we tell them of our book about that magical summer of 1980.
Some, though, are skeptical: “Can’t see much demand for it? What’s new? Everyone already knows the story.”
They have a point. There are some 20 books about Terry Fox, most written just after the Marathon of Hope or written for children. This is an adult book for anyone and has the luxury of long-view hindsight those other books didn’t have and, frankly, because it’s also Bill’s journey, could never have.
Terry & Me: The Inside Story of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope (2023 Sutherland House) isn’t just another book about Terry Fox. This is the real story. The inside story as the title suggests, an intimate portrait looking at some of the behind the scenes turmoil never before shared and some of the more memorable moments on the road.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it nearly never happened. Terry not only had to fight to convince people he could physically run across Canada with an artificial leg, he almost didn’t get the full support from the very charity he was raising money for, the Canadian Cancer Society. It wasn’t until a go-no go meeting in downtown Toronto where two of the biggest divisions of the CCS resisted getting on board – and thus not providing support on the road – complained it would disrupt their schedule. Beside, one of the regional directors complained, he’d already booked his vacation.
Terry had already landed some important sponsorship from Ford and adidas and the nod – without overly committing resources – from the Canadian Cancer Society did eventually come.
When it was a success, everyone wanted in. Suddenly they wanted to hijack the run and commercialize it. Terry wasn’t having any of that and there were some interesting exchanges. Terry was a purist. He didn’t want to be the hero or a star or a brand. He just wanted to bring attention to the need for cancer research funding.
One of the lessons from the Marathon of Hope, as Bill details, is that in life as in business, there are going to be disruptors. Sometimes from within. Sometimes from without. You have to be ready to recognize when a disruptor can be an opportunity. Terry disrupted the way the Cancer Society conducted business. They weren’t ready to leave their comfort zone and it almost cost them dearly.
In any event, it wasn’t a slam dunk from the get go. While Terry picked up coverage when he dipped his leg in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland 12 April 1980, there were many cold and lonely days. The one bright ray of sunshine was Port Aux Basques where the 8,000 residents raised more than $8,000. Then came Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with more lonely days and sparse receptions. Quebec was even more depressing with the Quebec police ordering off the main road for safety reasons. It wasn’t until Bill Vigars and the French speaking friend he’d brought from Ontario intervened with a total lie that he was allowed to continue. And what a lie! You’ll double over laughing when you read it.
The book is more than the story of the Marathon of Hope however. On a literary level it’s about the intersection of two very different people at critical stages of their lives.
Both had hit rock bottom. Terry with the cancer diagnosis and subsequent amputation and Bill Vigars with bankruptcy, loss of his life savings, his house and his marriage. Both were in dark places and found a path to daylight. We follow Terry in the earliest stage of his planning of the Marathon of Hope, through his brutally tough training, his wheelchair basketball career and the start of his marathon training.
In parallel we learn more of Bill and why he was never supposed to be there. He didn’t get the job at the Canadian Cancer Society he’d banked on after they offered it to him. Instead, after being rejected and despondent, karma intervened and he learned of and successfully applied for a job with the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society. That post in turn led him directly to Terry Fox and the rest is history. If he hadn’t been rejected from the first job he never would have hooked up with the Marathon of Hope.
Indeed, karma plays a huge role in this, from the beginning right up to this day as we launch the book.
Terry & Me is about believing in yourself, setting goals and working harder than anyone else to achieve your dreams. Terry did that his entire life, from working his way onto the high school basketball team, then the SFU team and then, after his amputation, joining up with Rick Hansen to become a wheelchair basketball star. Along the way he made believers out of the doubters, among this his family and others like Canadian basketball great Jay Triano, a fellow student who befriended Terry at SFU.
Terry was an athlete respected by professional athletes because they saw how hard he worked, trained and pushed himself to reach his goals.
You’ll also learn a little of what Terry was thinking by reading his inner most thoughts in letters and postcards sent to his cancer ward nurse before and during the run. These have never been published before and casts Terry in a new light.
As the Marathon of Hope grew and became the headline story of the summer across North America, people turned to Terry with almost religious fervor.
At times it’s easy to see why. Terry was the embodiment of an Angel Of Hope and his Marathon of Hope was evangelical, though not in a religious way, per se.
Terry wasn’t vocally religious. He’d read the Bible twice, he once said, but still had questions.
Still, Terry preached selfless devotion to the cause, that of raising money to research a cure for cancer. Like a martyr, he suffered greatly and people could see him suffering as he shuffled on his leg, his stump often raw and bleeding. Draw your own analogies.
The impact he had on audiences was indeed evangelical. People believed. They believed in Terry. They believed in Terry’s quest. They would reach out to touch him, just a touch of his clothes even, as he passed by in a crowd.
It was inspirational and, at times, ethereal.
To this day Terry is sacrosanct in Canada. When the Liberal government removed his image from the pages of the Canadian passport there was an immediate and vociferous outcry. There are still many demanding to know why he hasn’t been placed on the Canadian $5 bill since he’s been under consideration for years and is the overwhelming choice of Canadians.
Terry & Me humanizes Terry Fox as a real person without taking away from the icon he has become. The story is a journey and we hope it leads the reader to their own self realization and inspiration
As I said, it’s not just another Terry Fox book. We think it might be the definitive Terry Fox book for the generations who weren’t around in 1980 and 1981.
In one of the last conversations Bill had with Terry he drew in closer and whispered: “I’m going to make you live forever. I promise.”
I think Bill has kept that promise and then some and we hope you will too.