Terry Fox Run: Photog remembers Marathon of Hope

First in a series of articles leading up to the Tri-Cities Terry Fox Runs Sunday, Sept. 16.

In 1980, photojournalist Gail Harvey was one of three reporters working in the Toronto newsroom for United Press Canada.

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And as the only woman on the team, she was often assigned to the night desk, where she would receive details of events from around the world.

But she kept seeing photos of Terry Fox on the news wire, and images of the young man from Port Coquitlam caught her eye.

She was intrigued by his cross-country adventure, which started in St. John’s, N.L., April 12, 1980, with his best friend and fellow PoCo resident Doug Alward, driving the Marathon of Hope van.

Harvey was especially keen to chase his story.

Why would someone with an artificial leg run a marathon a day to raise money for cancer research?

“The human condition fascinates me,” Harvey told The Tri-City News from Toronto last week. “I wanted to get to know what he was like and what made him tick.”

By the time Fox made his way across the eastern provinces and into Ontario, he had gone from oddity to national star.

By then, Isadore Sharp — the founder of CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, who had lost a son to melanoma two years prior — had joined the fundraising campaign, offering Fox, Alward and Fox’s brother, Darrell, room and food at his hotels along the way.

The Canadian Cancer Society had also brought on a press officer, Bill Vigars, to steer the publicity.

Vigars invited Harvey to cover Fox’s welcome at Toronto city hall on July 11, 1980 — an event attended by 10,000 people that raised $100,000 for the charity.

GAIL HARVEY

Soon, Harvey was calling up Vigars to meet Fox on her days off.

“Wherever they were, I would drive up and hang out,” she recalled. “I did it on my own time.”

And Fox was open to meeting the press.

“He was just a great person. He was so kind, shy, determined, very giving. It was very moving what he was doing. You couldn’t believe a human being who had lost his leg was doing all this and giving all the money to cancer research. It was a phenomenal thing.”

Using a Canon SLR with a long lens, Harvey captured Fox from the back of her Volkswagen Rabbit, sitting in the hatchback with Vigars at the wheel.

She documented Fox being greeted by townspeople around Ontario and well-wishers waving their hands in support and stopping to drop off donations.

But Harvey also caught Fox on film during the quiet times, too, before sunrise, around 4 a.m. She still remembers the sound he made when he pounded the pavement: “do do doot, do do doot.”

Her images also show Fox stopping at mid-morning for a huge breakfast and resting for the afternoon before he got back at it, with a few orange slices and water in his system.

“It was just a very organized thing,” Harvey recalled.

Harvey even camped out in the Marathon of Hope van while the guys were spending the night in a hotel. At one point, after a long day, she asked Fox — who had his prosthetic leg at the side of his bed — what he thought about while he was on the road.

“He said, ‘I don’t think about anything except for putting one foot in front of the other. I just want to make it home.’”

GAIL HARVEY

One thing Harvey she never saw was Fox complain about his health, so when he stopped in Thunder Bay — after 143 days of running — she was shocked.

Harvey said she knew her images of Fox were important and, after he died at the age of 22 at Royal Columbian Hospital, after the cancer had returned, she knew her photos would become part of the nation’s memory of the hero.

Today, Harvey’s images are often used by the Terry Fox Foundation to promote fundraising for the Terry Fox Research Institute and other international cancer agencies.

Her photos were also blown up for the recent Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada exhibit, shown at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. (the display, in partnership with the Terry Fox Centre, continues to tour the country).

“I often say that’s probably the most important thing that I’ve done,” Harvey said of documenting the Marathon of Hope. “It’ll probably be on my tombstone: ‘Terry Fox Photographer.’

“It was pretty incredible and I’m grateful that I was able to be a part of that.”

jcleugh@tricitynews.com 

GAIL HARVEY

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SIGN UP FOR LOCAL TERRY FOX RUNS

You can take part in one of the four Terry Fox runs in the Tri-Cities on Sunday, Sept. 16:

• in Fox’s hometown of PoCo (10 a.m. start at Hyde Creek recreation centre, 1379 Laurier St., with three-time cancer survivor Debbie Middleton delivering the keynote speech);

• Coquitlam (10 a.m. start at Mundy Park, 641 Hillcrest St., with Marathon of Hope publicist Bill Vigars delivering the keynote);

• Port Moody (10 a.m. start at Rocky Point Park, 2800-block of Murray St.);

• and Anmore (12:30 p.m. start at Spirit Park, 2697 Sunnyside Rd. with Terry Fox Foundation BC/Yukon director Donna White as keynote).

Register in advance online via terryfox.org

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