Nine years ago, after moving from Port Coquitlam to Hudson, Que., a town 60 km west of Montreal, Diane Neupert and her husband Erich read a plea from the Terry Fox Foundation in the local newspaper. A community run organizer was desperately needed for the town of 5,000 residents or the annual event would be cancelled, the article stated.
Diane Neupert looked at her spouse. He knew what she was thinking.
"How hard could it be?" she asked.
Having grown up in B.C. and followed the PoCo hero as he ran across Canada in 1980 to raise money for cancer — a disease that claimed her own mother — Neupert sprang into action. She contacted the provincial office to volunteer her and Erich's services. The municipal staff were helpful, she remembered, and many townsfolk came to her aid. Since 2008, the pair has organized every Terry Fox Run in Hudson.
"I feel like we had to do it for everybody who has been affected by cancer," the Centennial secondary graduate said. "We have to make sure we find a cure."
Neupert's story about how Fox touched her life is one of millions across Canada. In every corner of the country, someone will recall the day Fox died and how their view of cancer changed because of his him.
Today, more than half a billion dollars has been raised in Canada for cancer research in Fox's name and medical breakthroughs are being made regularly by scientists connected to the Terry Fox Research Institute.
One of its new projects is called PROFYLE, an acronym for PRecision Oncology For Young PeopLE — a program that will transform the care of young cancer patients by using molecular tools to identify biomarkers that are targets for therapy.
But the costs are high for medical research.
And the funding from the Terry Fox community and school runs is vital to this kind of research, said Donna White, the provincial director of the BC/Yukon Terry Fox Foundation, which has its office in Port Coquitlam.
Last year, the BC/Yukon branch collected $2.5 million from community and school events in Fox's name — the third largest tally after Ontario ($10 million) and Alberta ($3 million).
Martha McClew, Ontario's provincial director, said the spirit of Terry's Team members — those who are cancer patients and survivors, like White — is heartwarming.
"Not a day goes by that I don't feel inspired, uplifted, motivated by the stories that are shared with us by our Terry’s Team members," she said. "There is no room for self-pity, tiredness or any other minor complaint when you read what thousands of Canadians are living through and with every day."
McClew added: "Not all have a hopeful prognosis but every single one of them is signing up to participate in the run, to actively do something to not only help themselves but also help others."
White said no two run years are the same: Each is inspirational and each brings out new people who may be hearing Fox's story for the first time.
Heather Strong, provincial director for the Terry Fox Foundation in Newfoundland and Labrador, which last year brought in nearly $355,000 through 41 community runs, 175 school events and 10 special activities, said she's encouraged Fox's message has resonated with newcomers and students.
In Nova Scotia, which last year raised $650,000 from 63 community runs and 347 school events, the province is "seeing quite a few younger people take leadership in both our community and school Terry Fox Runs," said provincial director Barbara Pate. "This increases each year in Nova Scotia and we are very pleased to see this trend continue."
Pate cited the example of the graduating class at Halifax West high school, which brought in $20,000 at a head shave this year.
Saskatchewan provincial director Heather Mackenzie said she's also excited to build on Terry's legacy, being new to the role. This year, she's responsible for 54 community runs, 550 school runs and 65 special events, along with 11 new run organizers.
Provincial director Gwen Smith-Walsh said she has registered 40 more community and school runs in New Brunswick this year and four more in Prince Edward Island.
Last year, for the 35th anniversary, Canadians travelled from all over to participate in the Terry Fox Run across Confederation Bridge, she said. "To date, it is the largest run ever in the Terry Fox [Foundation] history, with over 10,000 participants in one particular run location.
People from all over our nation — as well as some from the U.S. — flocked to this unique event."
There are four sites in the Tri-Cities for the 36th annual Terry Fox Run on Sunday, Sept. 18:
• Port Coquitlam: Registration for the Hometown Run opens at 8 a.m. and the run starts at 10 a.m. in front of Hyde Creek community centre (1379 Laurier St.). The course is suitable for runners and walkers of all abilities as well as people riding bikes, using inline skates, pushing strollers or using wheelchairs. Dogs on leash are welcome. Route distances are 3 km, 5 km, 8 km and 10 km. Organized by Dave Teixeira. Keynote speaker: Bill Vigars, Terry Fox's public relations director during the Marathon of Hope. Performances by Revolving Doors. Premier Christy Clark to attend. To volunteer, call 604-418-9177.
• Coquitlam: Registration opens at 9 a.m., run starts at 10:30 a.m. at Blue Mountain Park (off Porter Street and King Albert Avenue). Pancake breakfast to follow. Performances by the Lindbjerg Academy and Excel Martial Arts. Assistance from students at Dr. Charles Best secondary. Suitable for bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and rollerblades. Dogs on leash welcome. Route distances: 2.5 km, 5 km and 10 km. Organized by Grace Choi. Keynote speaker: Fred Tinck, Terry Fox's high school running coach. To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Port Moody: Registration opens at 9 a.m., run starts at 10 a.m. at Rocky Point Park. Performance by Tony Prophet. Suitable for bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and rollerblades. Dogs on leash welcome. Route distances 2 km, 5 km and 10 km. Organized by Mayor Mike Clay, Elle Brovold and Sam Zacharias. To volunteer, email email@example.com.
• Anmore: Registration opens at 11 a.m., run starts at noon at Spirit Park (2697 Sunnyside Rd.) Suitable for bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and rollerblades. Dogs on leash welcome. Route distances 2 km and 4.5 km. Organized by Gord Bytelaar and Dave McCloskey. Keynote speaker: Britt Andersen, executive director of the Terry Fox Foundation and Belcarra resident. To volunteer, call 604-839-0564 or 778-990-0385.