Do you know who Terry Fox is? If you live below the 49th Parallel there is a good chance you don’t. To the North, however, he’s not only an inspiration, he’s on the money.
Terry: Terry Fox and His Marathon of Hope by Douglas Coupland is so much more than another coffee table book. Yes, it’s the same size as the two previous Coupland coffee table books, Souvenir of Canada and Souvenir of Canada 2, but there is so much more.
This isn’t just a book about Terry Fox, even though he is the titular man. This is a book about a nation, a cause, a moment, an illness, and the reactions to circumstances, inspiration, and hope. All of that was initially sparked by Terry and now continues to honor his legacy.
I knew the name Terry Fox, but didn’t really know much more than that. I believe it is due to my Canadian-education-by-osmosis from friends and other content derived from the Great White North, but to really know the story is an inspiration.
Let’s start with the core of this book. “In the summer of 1980, a fresh-faced young athlete who’d lost a leg to cancer decided to run across Canada to raise money for research in the fight against the disease. In the course of 143 days, he ran 3,339 miles and transformed the way that we look at our lives and our very bodies. His name was Terry Fox.”
Coupland’s style in handling this story is one of reverence, similar to the way he handled writing about his country in Souvenir 1 and 2. His personal anecdotes about either doing the research for this book or being alive as it happened add to the narrative and perspective of the story and aren’t just added in for ego’s sake.
Most importantly, Coupland recognizes that his is only some of the story. He acknowledges and quotes from Leslie Scrivener’s biography Terry Fox – His Story, and he doesn’t try to create a newly definitive biography of the man. To read this book is to get an idea of how Terry’s Marathon of Hope came to be and, perhaps more importantly, what it meant to the nation of Canada as a whole.
Towards the end, Coupland writes, “Since 1980, cancer research – thanks very much in part to Terry – has leapt ahead several generations. Were he to have the same cancer today, not only would he keep his leg but he’d probably be alive and well. Terry got it right – research equals hope. More research equals more hope.”
This is something that has become a rallying cry and a standard now in 2022 and certainly was common knowledge in 2005 when the book was published. In 1980, getting people to understand that “research equals hope” wasn’t as easy.
As someone who didn’t grow up with the legend of Terry Fox versus his legacy, I will say that Terry was ahead of his time. Before Livestrong, before Jimmy Valvano’s ESPY Speech, there was the Marathon of Hope. That’s what makes it inspiring for me, because I have been equally inspired by a few of the things that have come since. As one of the first to raise awareness and money at the same time, it’s not just history, and it’s certainly not just Canadian. It’s part of our humanity.
As cancer impacts more and more people, research can give hope to more and more people. Do you have to pick this book up to know that? Nope. But I do think you should learn more because one book review is simply not enough to capture the magnitude of Terry Fox. To learn even more about the Canadian legend, visit www.terryfox.org.