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Terry Fox A Real Canadian Hero

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s the National School Day fundraiser for the Terry Fox Run and thousands of kids from all over the country are running, most in the name of someone who has been dead longer than they have been alive.

I know, this corner of the electronic world is reserved for the elite athletes, not the likes of Terry Fox. If you have come here for the latest about DeMar DeRozan and Nazem Kadri, you’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Half a dozen years ago, I was arguing with a colleague who held that Terry Fox never should have been given the Lou Marsh Award for athletic achievement way back in 1980. “Who did he beat?” my friend asked.

I think my colleague missed the point. The greats leave something more than championships behind. Michael Jordan reinvented the NBA. Wayne Gretzky piloted hockey’s exploration into the Sunbelt.

Thirty years ago, Terry Fox ran a marathon a day for 143 days. Even in cold weather, he eschewed sweatpants. He wanted people to see his prosthetic right leg.

Disappointed at the primitive conditions he found when treated for the cancer that claimed his leg, Terry Fox determined that he could raise $1 for each Canadian. So far, his runs have raised $553 million for Cancer research. The dial will never stop spinning as Canadian kids challenge themselves and each other to walk, ride, or run. By that measure alone, Terry Fox may be the country’s most influential athlete.

But who did he beat?

The truth is, Terry Fox’s athletic credentials dwarf those who beat and were beaten and that applies to the men you read about every day on this website.

Athletes don’t save lives. Their foundations do wonderful work and can change lives. They visit the sick and the dying but they are not truly among them. They can’t be.

Terry Fox did. Countless lives have been saved by monies raised in Terry Fox runs. If your child or parent or brother or sister incurred the same Cancer that claimed Terry Fox, his or her chances for survival would be dramatically higher because of what he happened 30 years ago.

The greatest athletes rise above their circumstances, but never really leave them. Babe Ruth was a grown up version of the dead-end kid. Athletes routinely wear their history on their arms, chests and shoulders but Terry Fox’s story both began and ended in a hospital bed.

As for the feat itself, running 26 km for 143 days isn’t an achievement, it’s a freakish once-in-a-lifetime aberration. It’s so far beyond any established or even understandable standard that it can’t be fathomed. Maybe the only comparable benchmark is Cal Ripken’s 2,632 straight games or Glenn Hall’s 552 playoff and regular season games in goal. Those two gentlemen, of you remember, had the benefit of two legs.

Great athletes do more than break records. They are studies in endeavour, in courage, in consistency. They are models beamed or carried into every house and the best ones, through the strength of their character or the breadth of their achievements do not disappoint. They are Albert Pujols not Barry Bonds, Martin Brodeur not Ray Emery, Bill Russell not Gilbert Arenas, Jack Nicklaus not Tiger Woods. They are Wendel Clark not Matt Cooke.

The question isn’t whether Terry Fox warrants inclusion among the greatest names in sports. The question is whether these fine gentlemen deserve to have their name beside his.
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