It was 2006 when Joan King arrived at Simcoe Park the day of the annual Terry Fox run, prepared to do her five kilometres.
But when she got there the park, usually a bustle of activity the day of the event, was empty.
This year, the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, she will be there once again without participants or crowds of people, this time, due to the pandemic.
In 2006, she discovered, there was no scheduled run in town due to a lack of organizers — there had been a terrific team of volunteers doing it for years, who felt it was time to hand it over to someone else. King decided then and there she would take it on, and did, starting slowly the next year, with little experience and no team to help her.
King has learned a lot since then, the run has grown, and the amount of money raised from a small town, population about 18,000, is phenomenal, she says — $937,436 since the first NOTL event in 1991.
Every year, she tries to add something a little different to increase the total amount of money raised, but this year has been a challenge, with the actual run through the streets of the Old Town, and in other towns across Canada, cancelled. In its place is a One Day, Your Way run, with participants keeping the Marathon of Hope alive by running, walking or biking on their own, around their neighbourhood, or anywhere they choose.
King will be at Simcoe Park again this Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., with no scheduled run, no crowds of people chatting and stretching as they wait for the official start. She has plans to set up in the bandshell, with the photos she has collected over the years, and will also be on hand to accept pledge sheets and donations. The big banner of Terry Fox will be there for anyone who wants a photo, and she will be handing out participation seals and certificates and stickers that say ‘I am running for . . .’
King is looking forward to displaying a quilt that usually hangs on a wall in her Queenston home, made of Terry Fox Run T-shirts she has collected over the years. It was made by her “extremely talented” friend Leigh Bishop, who went to a lot of time and trouble to produce a beautiful keepsake that will always remind King of why Fox, and the run, is so important to her.
King is asking participants to go to the NOTL Terry Fox Facebook page to share a little video clip or some photos of their runs, since she won’t have photos from Simcoe Park.
“Anyone who has a memory from 40 years ago can also post their story, and what Terry Fox means to them,” King adds.
In the weeks and months leading up to the run, she has been posting quotes and photos of Fox during his marathon-a-day, as he ran half-way across the country,
often in great pain, on one leg, not realizing his cancer had returned. She has included photos taken on Sept. 3, 1980, and in the following weeks, after he had to stop in Thunder Bay. It was a time when the country, who just months earlier had never heard of the young man, was suddenly in a state of shock to hear he wasn’t going to be able to finish what he started.
King reminds people that he only ever asked for $1 from every Canadian, to help the kids he had seen in the cancer ward when he was being treated, kids whose faces he said he could never forget. Since then, more than $800 million has been raised in his name to date.
After he discovered his cancer had returned, he reminded the country, once again, says King, of the kind of person he is, quoting Fox a few days after he had been admitted to hospital for treatment for lung cancer. “I don’t feel that this (a second diagnosis) is unfair. That’s the thing about cancer. I’m not the only one, it happens all the time, to other people. I’m not special. This just intensifies what I did, it gives it more meaning, it’ll inspire more people.”
And it has, including King, who believes his self-sacrifice sets an example, and benefits people around the world.
To register to fundraise, visit terryfox.org.
To post photos and comments on Facebook, or to read the great posts that remind us why we still have an annual event 40 years later, go to NOTL Terry Fox Run.