There is something about Terry Fox that tends to make people emotional.
Ask Joe Pillitteri why he is so passionate about raising funds for the annu- al Marathon of Hope, and the stand-up comic, a man much more accustomed to joking, gets choked up.
Talk to Joan King about why she has organized the annual event in Niaga- ra-on-the-Lake since 2007, and you will hear the same emotion in her reply.
Ask anyone who is a cancer survivor or has someone close to them who has faced cancer, and expect tears.
That includes Ann Deuerlein, a mom who helped organize a run with five families — parents and a total of 11 children, aged five to nine — from their Old Town neighbourhood. The Regent Street woman explains that during COVID, all five families decided to learn tennis, as a way to keep active with their kids. Once they got good at playing, they named themselves Team Tennissee. Deuerlein says her family has always participated in the Terry Fox run, starting in Simcoe Park, and when that organized event was cancelled last year due to COVID, she decided it would be good to make it a group event, as part of a larger team, and broached the idea with Team Tennissee.
They raised around $5,000, and it was a “wonderful experience,” she says.
They had Royal Oak Community School physical education teacher Peter Hill to help them with warmups and cool-downs, and after their five-kilometre run, met together for snacks.
One of the moms in the group is a cancer survivor, which made it also an emotional experience, says Deuerlein, who becomes teary thinking of her friend and what she’s gone through. Others in the group have lost family members to cancer, she says.
She’s grateful the run provided parents with an opportunity to teach their children about Terry Fox, and the importance of his legacy, she adds.
“When we first talked about it, everyone got on board really quickly,” she says.
She visited Joan King, organizer of the annual run, and got pins and T-shirts for everybody. “Joan’s enthusiasm is so great. I knew her from the Simcoe Park runs, and when I called to tell her what we were doing, she also set us up with posters and tattoos for the kids. With her help, this real- ly turned into something special. Joan is amazing, and inspiring.”
Deuerlein recalls her first summer in town, seven years ago, was the first time she met King, who was at the Peach Celebration on Queen Street selling T-shirts for the run. “I remember her well,” she says. “If you meet Joan, you don’t forget her.”
Team Tennissee will be repeating last year’s event with a COVID-safe run this Sept. 19, the official day of the run. “We have a good time, and it’s all worth it for a good cause.”
King says she’s especially grateful for teams and family events, with the organized official run from Simcoe Park again cancelled because of COVID.
Instead, the annual fall tradition in Canada, which involves more than 650 communities across the country fundraising for cancer research, will again be a One Day, Your Way event, encouraging participants to run, walk, ride or wheel “around your neighbourhood, backyard, down the street or around the block.”
King too becomes emotional when she thinks of Terry Fox, his strength and courage, and what he endured after first dipping his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean April 12, 1980, with the determination to run across Canada and by November reach B.C. to dip his leg into the Pacific Ocean.
King recently watched a recent CBC special, Terry Fox: The Power of One, that showed footage of Fox running on his prosthetic leg, a marathon a day most days, as he began what has become known as “one of the most courageous and selfless journeys in the history of athletes,” as the TV special says.
With Tom Cochrane in the background singing Life is a Highway, Fox is shown running along the highway hour after hour, with a goal of raising $1 million for cancer research. He had a police escort from the beginning, and gradually, as the media introduced him to the public, people began to honk for him, and in some instances, run beside him.
It wasn’t until he reached Toronto that his journey became widely known, and crowds of people came out to see him, sharing stories of those who had survived can- cer, lost loved ones from the disease, and donated to his cause. Although he became ill and could not complete his journey, it led him to become one of the greatest Canadians of all time. As Rick Mercer, one of those who met him on the highway outside St. John’s, says, “we were looking at a superhero.”
Fox eventually raised his goal to $24 million, which would have meant collecting $1 from every Canadian. To date, more than $800 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry’s name through the annual Terry Fox Run.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has reached a 30-year milestone of runs, with just one year missed before King took it over in 2007.
With last year’s Simcoe Park event cancelled, King says, “we had to work differently, and smarter, and we still did very well. People have become accustomed to doing everything online, and those who are passionate about the run still did it.”
People are getting creative, either organizing groups or running individually, to keep the event going, she says.
Last year’s run raised more than $90,000, similar to 2017. The largest total to date was in 2019, when almost $147,000 was raised, and in total, the town has contributed more than $1 million from its runs.
Joe Pillitteri, says King, is the main reason for the high numbers the town has accomplished in recent years. In addition to putting together his own team, he challenges others, and also organizes fundraisers, including what has become an annual event of dinner and Pillitteri doing a stand-up comic routine. He does two shows — he will be doing them again this September at Ravine Vineyards Estate Winery, in their large outdoor patio, both sold out.
“Joe is so passionate about the run,” she says. “He makes us all want to be involved.”
She says she misses the event in the park, with Pillitteri there joking, the collage of photos on display of those who have participated over the years, but she will be there again this year for anyone who wants to stop by. Some may do the traditional route, as last year, and the NOTL Rotary Club will be holding its fundraising barbecue.
The run, she says, is first and foremost a fundraiser for an important cause, “but it has also become part of the town’s history.”
For more information, visit https://terryfox.org/ terry-fox-run/