By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Spirits are high in Chatham-Kent with the annual Terry Fox Run.
This year marks the 40th anniversary since Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope cross-country run and 25 years since the inaugural Terry Fox run in Dresden.
In 1995, Dresden organizer Cindy Brewer had three days to plan the inaugural run. One hundred locals showed up and $6,000 was raised.
Eventually Dresden would go on to be known as one of Ontario’s most successful Terry Fox Runs. It raised the most money per capita three years in a row, and came in second place the last two years.
“People here just embrace the whole run. There’s really quite a lot of small hometown pride,” Brewer said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way fundraising events are being hosted in 2020. This year the event, being held today, has gone virtual with the slogan “One Day, Your Way.”
Participants were asked to sign up online and find a route close to their home, or heart, where they can walk, run or cycle. Fortieth anniversary merchandise can also be bought, with all proceeds going to the foundation.
Despite the socially isolated run, support is still going strong. Last year Dresden earned second-place for most money raised per capita with $38,000.
This year, as of Friday afternoon there were already 84 runners registered and $14,866 raised.
With in-person pledges still needing to be collected, they are likely to reach half of last year’s goal. An amazing feat given the current circumstances, according to Brewer.
Brewer said she is happy with the virtual success but not surprised by the amount of support and funds raised.
“When it comes around, all participants just own it and we’re still sensing the excitement this year. It really took off online.”
Pat McMahon, organizer of the Chatham run, said success this year means people just getting out with their families and participating in the event. Given the current economic situation, he is encouraging people to only donate if they can.
“It’s a difficult time to raise money, but cancer can’t wait for COVID-19 to be over,” he said. “Give it a try, to help raise awareness for cancer research. Even while in the middle of a serious pandemic there’s a lot still happening and we need to do as much as we can.”
McMahon said he is hearing from a lot of Chatham runners and organizers who are determined to carry on despite the pandemic, just like Terry Fox would.
“The more we hear of the struggles Terry went through, the more we take stock of ourselves. There aren’t too many families not touched to some degree by some form of cancer. It’s become their own personal cause. And Terry was just trying to raise awareness, and you really have to admire that kind of dedication,” he said.
McMahon has been participating in Terry Fox runs all across Canada for the past four decades. In 1980, he was lagging 20 minutes behind Fox as the Canadian hero was forced to end his 143-day run in Thunder Bay.
One of his greatest memories is living in Port Coquitlam, B.C. where Fox was raised. For several years, Fox’s mom, dad and siblings would come out at the start of the run to talk about what he went through.
“That really stuck in my head. It was the inspiration from his parents and siblings that really stuck with me and continues to inspire me every year, as well as the passing of my own family members,” he said. “Seeing the report of the successes (in research) is what keeps me going all these decades later.”
Brewer said she has also had a lot of cancer in her family, and looking at the progress made in treatments and research has given her hope.
Her favourite moment, after 25 years of organizing the Dresden run, was seeing how it has become a family tradition.
Kids that were once doing the walk in a stroller pushed by their parents now sit on the committee and are carrying their own kids through the marathon. Brewer herself will be bringing her granddaughter just born on Tuesday.
“To think we are part of a family tradition is a wonderful feeling to carry,” she said.
Brewer said the event continues to go strong years later, even in a pandemic, because Terry Fox’s values continue to resonate.
“I think the things he accomplished have never been repeated, and his intentions were so pure and true. Any Canadian can relate to those values,” she said.