CBC's 'The Greatest Canadian' has started and listed the top ten up for consideration. Here's my preliminary ranking of them...
Sir John A. Macdonald
Lester B. Pearson
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Alexander Graham Bell
I put the four politicians, especially Pearson and Trudeau, below Fox and Gretzky because their achievements and legacy will not be viewed by all Canadians as 'great'. How can we choose a 'Greatest Canadian' that many, many Canadians dislike, or in Trudeau's case specifically, despise.
Maybe it's lame that I choose an apolitical young man - someone that didn't live long enough to create critics. Isn't Canada's history full of division already? Will some complain that there is only on Quebecer in the top ten?
I choose a Canadian that gave his life to his cause. He touched every Canadian and he fought and experienced half of the massive geography that binds us and keeps us apart.
His Marathon of Hope had started as an improbable dream – two friends, one to drive the van, one to run, a ribbon of highway, and the sturdy belief that they could perform a miracle.
He ran through ice storms and summer heat, against bitter winds of such velocity he couldn't move, through fishing villages and Canada's biggest cities. Though he shunned the notion himself, people were calling him a hero. He still saw himself as simple little Terry Fox, from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, average in everything but determination.
But here, 18 miles from Thunder Bay, at the head of Lake Superior, the coughing had
stopped, but the dull, blunt pain had not. Neither running nor resting could make it go away.
He saw the people lined up the hill ahead of him. The Ontario Provincial Police cruiser was behind him, red lights flashing in the drizzle, and cheers still surrounded him: "You can make it all the way!"
Terry could not ignore what people said to him. He listened. "I started to think about those comments. I thought this might be my last mile."
He ran until there were no more people, and then he climbed wearily into the van and asked his friend and driver Doug Alward to drive him to a hospital.
The night before his operation, his high school basketball coach, Terri Fleming, brought him a running magazine which featured an article about an amputee, Dick Traum, who had run in the New York City Marathon. And though his future was never more precarious, Terry dreamed that night about running across Canada.
"I'm competitive," Terry said. "I'm a dreamer. I like challenges. I don't give up. When I decided to do it, I knew I was going to go all out. There was no in-between."
The 16 months of follow-up treatment marked Terry irreversibly. He saw suffering as he'd never seen it before. He heard doctors telling youngsters in the nearby beds that they had a 15 per cent chance of living. He heard screams of pain. He saw strong, young bodies wasted by disease. He never forgot what he'd seen and when he left the cancer clinic for the last time, he left with a burden of responsibility. He was among the lucky one-third of patients who survived.
"I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist even though I would be set free from mine," he wrote in a letter asking for sponsorship for his run. "Somewhere, the hurting must stop... and I was determined to take myself to the limit for those causes."
It was Rick Hansen who invited Terry to get back into sports and join a wheelchair basketball team. (Rick and Terry were of the same mold; later Rick, a paraplegic, would push his wheelchair around the world, and he never failed to give credit to Terry, the friend who inspired him.)
Terry tackled this new challenge with his usual gusto. He made himself strong pushing his wheelchair along the sea wall at Stanley Park in Vancouver. Or he'd find steep mountains and push himself up unruly logging roads. He pushed himself until his hands bled.
Two years after his operation, Terry started a running programme.
The first half miles he ran in the dark, so no one could see him. But one of his coaches from junior high, Bob McGill, who had since overcome cancer himself, heard the steady one-two thump of Terry's good leg and the thud of his artificial leg, long before he could see his wobbly frame in the darkness.
Terry trained for 15 months, running 3,159 miles, running until his stump was raw and bleeding, running every day for 101 days, until he could run 23 miles a day. He took one day off at Christmas, only because his mother asked him.
Once, just before Christmas, when he had run only a half mile, the bottom half of his artificial leg snapped in two pieces, and Terry crashed to the pavement. He picked up the two parts, tucked them under his arm, stuck out his thumb and hitch-hiked home. There, he clamped the two parts together and ran another five miles.
When Terry told his mother Betty, he intended to run across Canada, in her no-nonsense way she told him he was crazy. He said he was going to run no matter what she thought.
Then Betty told her husband Rolly, and he, knowing his son so well, simply said, "When?"
In the quotes section of the website, there are two quotes that I especially admire - what a fighting spirit:
"Some people can’t figure out what I’m doing. It’s not a walk-hop, it’s not a trot, it’s running, or as close as I can get to running, and it’s harder than doing it on two legs. It makes me mad when people call this a walk. If I was walking it wouldn’t be anything."
"I’m running on one leg. It may not look like I’m running fast, but I’m going as hard as I can. It bothers me, people coming up beside me. I want to make those guys work. I can’t stand making it easy for them. I’m really competitive. When they run with me, they’re usually running for only two or three miles; for me it might be my twenty-sixth mile."
And in the timeline section, where they include some of Terry's thoughts along the way, it includes the following:
Day 15: 542 km South Brook Junction, NF
"Today we got up at 4:00 am. As usual, it was tough. If I died, I would die happy because I was doing what I wanted to do. How many people could say that? I went out and did fifteen push-ups in the road and took off. I want to set an example that will never be forgotten."
May 15: 1,278 km Sheet Harbour, NS
After a reception where Terry ran with some school children, he wrote: "When I ran with the kids I really burned it just to show them how fast I could go. They were tired and puffing. All right!"
May 29: 1,865 km Highway 2, west of Moncton, NB
"We learned that Saint John would have nothing organized for us. I try so hard and then get let down. I am going to run right down this city's main street. Doug is going to follow behind and honk. We will be rebels, we will stir up noise. People will know Terry Fox ran out of his way to Saint John for a reason!'
Terry collapsed in the van from exhaustion - his face brilliant, his breath laboured, his eyes closed as if blocking out the light and the pain with a wrinkled $100 bill, damp from perspiration, clasped tightly in his hands.
July 11: 3,523 km Toronto, ON
Terry meets his hockey idol Darryl Sittler who gave Terry his 1980 NHL all-star team sweater. Darryl said, "I've been around athletes a long time and I've never seen any with his courage and stamina." One on-looker commented, "He makes you believe in the human race again."
August 12: 4,675 km Sault Ste Marie, ON
When a Sault Ste. Marie radio station broadcast that a spring had snapped in Terry's artificial limb, a welder jumped in his car to make a road call. In 90 minutes, the spring was repaired and Terry was on the road again.
Sept 1: 5,373 km Thunder Bay, ON
"People were still lining the road saying to me, "Keep going, don't give up, you can do it, you can make it, we're all behind you." Well, you don't hear that and have it go in one ear and out the other, for me anyway… There was a camera crew waiting at the three-quarter mile point to film me. I don't think they even realized that they filmed my last mile… people were still saying, 'You can make it all the way, Terry'. I started to think about those comments in that mile, too. Yeah, I thought, this might be my last one."