Fox's story close to home for students
Thousands of students in the Coquitlam school district joined millions of young people across the country on Wednesday to honour a Port Coquitlam hero who touched the hearts of their parents and grandparents more than three decades ago.
Among those taking part in the seventh annual National School Terry Fox Run Day were students from Maple Creek middle in PoCo, a school close to Fox’s former home and the place where he trained as an amputee runner with his coach, Bob McGill.
McGill, a former teacher and administrator at Maple Creek, returned to his old stomping grounds on a beautiful, sunny day to talk to the 600-plus students about what kind of student Fox was when he took him on as a Grade 8 basketball player at Mary Hill junior high school in the early 1970s.
During his 45-minute speech, McGill said Fox was usually the last to be picked for teams in PE because of his small stature. After three practice sessions with the basketball team — which, at the time, was one of the best in the school league — McGill suggested to the five-foot-tall Fox that he take up wrestling instead. Fox didn’t back down.
By the end of the season, Fox had played only 12 minutes but he didn’t mind, McGill said.
Fox’s perseverance and competitiveness on the court resulted in his being named the basketball co-captain in Grade 10.
As for his academics, Fox was also hard working, McGill recalled, rising from a failing status in Grade 8 to the honour roll in Grades 11 and 12 at PoCo high, which would later be renamed Terry Fox secondary.
“He gave his best and he never gave up,” McGill told the Maple Creek students, many of whom donned Terry Fox Run t-shirts, Run stickers and blue ribbons on their chests with the words “I am running for Terry Fox” or “Grandpa.”
McGill also told how he had helped Fox learn to run again on the Maple Creek middle track. The young man fell down, his newly amputated stump bled.
And he got mixed reviews from onlookers. A colleague of McGill’s cheered on Fox but a soccer mom ran across the field and pointed to Fox, saying, “You get that freak out of here.”
McGill said she didn’t want her nearby soccer team to see Fox “but they didn’t care. The young people, they understood what Terry was doing.”
Fox was often the subject of humiliation, mostly from adults, McGill said. He ran at night to avoid insults and horn honks — some drivers even tried to run him off the road.
McGill said the youth with cancer affected Fox deeply and they prompted him to launch his 1980 Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research, a crusade that today has collected more than $550 million.
In the hospital before he died in 1981, Fox told McGill: “Will people remember? Will people keep the dream alive?”
“You understand that when you do the walk, you keep the dream alive,” McGill told the students, who then descended on the same field where Fox started his miraculous journey.