Michael Mazza was in Grade 6 when his school teacher introduced the class to a young Port Coquitlam man named Terry Fox.
At the time, Fox was running across the country in his Marathon of Hope to raise research money for cancer, a disease that had taken his right leg only a few years earlier, and to build awareness.
Every day, his cohort talked about the champion and what his campaign meant. They followed his journey on the morning news and collected cash in Fox’s name.
As well, they took part in the first-ever Terry Fox Run in their southern Ontario city and, years later, Mazza would learn that his Grade 6 teacher — as well as a classmate —organized runs in their own communities.
Now, Mazza is also directly involved in the cause after being appointed in February as the new executive director of the charitable organization to replace Britt Andersen, a Belcarra resident who left in 2019.
Mazza told the Tri-City News last week that taking on the top foundation job one year into the COVID-19 pandemic was “a little intimidating but the board, the staff and the family were just so welcoming. It’s actually been really enjoyable.”
A healthcare fundraiser, Mazza has worked for more than 25 years with non-profits organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Scarborough Health Network Foundation and Renascent Foundation.
Unlike past executive directors who were based at the national office in B.C., Mazza said he’ll work from Toronto but he plans to travel extensively across Canada to promote the foundation’s work once the pandemic is over, he said.
Because of the current provincial health restrictions, the Terry Fox Runs will mostly be virtual again this year; however, there are some in-person runs that are scheduled to go ahead with physical distancing.
In B.C., the runs proceeding in-person are at the following sites: Surrey-Cloverdale; Mackenzie; UBC, Vancouver campus; Port Hardy; CFB Comox; and Squamish.
And in Coquitlam, the Westwood Plateau Golf and Country Club will host an informal in-person walk on Sept. 19 from 9 to 11 a.m., along the 3-km cart path of its executive 12-hole course (1630 Parkway Blvd., Coquitlam).
Mazza said although most of the runs were held virtually last year, fundraising was up 25% overall but school and international run revenues were down.
“We rallied,” Mazza said, “and we hope to see a big bounce back in the schools this year but that depends on the pandemic rules.”
A big fundraising push came last month when the foundation released a special televised broadcast on CBC called Power of One. The one-hour benefit, which featured footage of Fox on his Marathon of Hope, also included special performances and stories from Canadian celebrities on Fox’s legacy.
Mazza said the foundation has been buoyed by the program reception. “There’s been a lot of positive feedback about the show. The family felt proud.”
He said being part of the Terry Fox Foundation has brought him full circle, reminding him every day of the reasons why he gravitated his whole life to healthcare and philanthropy.
“I still feel so empowered about what Terry did,” Mazza said, adding, “He inspired Canadians to give over $850 million for cancer research. He wanted to set an example…. I don’t think I would be in this position today if it weren’t for Terry Fox and his dream to end cancer.”
For more information or to register for one of the four runs in the Tri-Cities — happening virtually on Sept. 19 — you’re encouraged to visit The Terry Fox Foundation’s website.