By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock
I am proud to report that I was one of the journalists covering that heroic highway convoy. It was a courageous event that demonstrated the strength of human spirit.
It happened without me being verbally abused, or spat upon. Reporters were treated with respect.
As it crossed the country, gaining cheering supporters along the roadsides, I realized this was a powerful story that could change Canada and Canadians. It changed me.
I’m not talking about the truck convoy that travelled to Ottawa to protest health restrictions to control the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed six million people worldwide.
The convoy I covered was 42 years ago when a 22-year-old curly-haired kid with an artificial leg decided to run coast to coast to raise awareness and money for cancer research.
In 1977, Terry Fox, a Port Coquitlam, B.C. university student, was diagnosed with cancer. His right leg was amputated. Doctors told him that medical advances gave him a 50 per cent chance of survival, up from 15 per cent because of research.
Fox endured 16 months of chemotherapy and practised running on the artificial leg. He ran with difficulty but determined he would run a Marathon of Hope to collect money for more cancer research.
On April 12, 1980 he dipped a leg into the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland, then began running west toward the Pacific.
The pain never slowed the odd hip-hop gait that carried him roughly 42 kilometres (26 miles) a day. Until it did, on the eastern outskirts of Thunder Bay. An ambulance carried him to hospital where he learned the cancer had spread to his lungs.
Terry Fox ran 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles} in 143 days. He didn’t whine. He didn’t curse and shake his fist at government action or inaction on health matters. He just ran his heart out in a fight against a deadly disease he believed could be defeated.
Ten months later I was at a Port Coquitlam hospital when Leslie Shepherd, a talented young reporter stationed outside Terry’s room, sent me a pre-arranged signal. I fashioned her signal into a wire news service bulletin and sent it out to the world: Terry Fox was dead.
The story did not end there. Terry Fox’s fight against cancer has raised nearly $1 billion for cancer research in the past 40 years. That’s money that has saved or prolonged many thousands of lives.
That’s why it is heartbreaking to see the protesters mock the Terry Fox memorial near Parliament Hill, draping it with anti-vaccine signs and upside-down Maple Leaf flags.
Some were reported to have danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Most heartbreaking is that protests against COVID-19 precautions are prolonging the pandemic, overburdening hospitals and delaying cancer treatments Terry Fox ran so hard to have improved.
Some have called the convoy truckers and their supporters heroes. They are in fact anti-heroes who lack the courage, fierce determination and hope that shone from Terry Fox’s eyes every step along his Marathon of Hope. They are the worst of the self-centred in an increasingly self-centred society.
“It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live,” Terry Fox once said. “The answer is to try and help others.”
We are all tired of the pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on our lives.
Terry Fox was tired of being without a leg. Tired of months of cancer treatments. Tired of thoughts of dying.
But he refused to succumb to bellyaching and a “woe is me” attitude. He stood straight on his artificial leg and ran. Ran in a battle against a terrible disease. Ran to improve life for us all.
“I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try,” he said. “Dreams are made possible if you try.”
The truckers’ convoy didn’t bring dreams to Ottawa. They brought Nazi banners, Confederate flags, anger, hatred and other relics of American Trumpism.
This is a country that neither needs, nor wants Trumpism. It’s a country that needs respectful protests, positive actions, much better leadership and appreciation of its heroes.
Terry Fox, the young man who refused to let disease consume his spirit, is a true Canadian hero whose memory deserves our utmost respect