Ultramarathon

Terry Fox and his route

“No!” is Not an Acceptable Answer – Terry Fox

“I bet some of you feel sorry for me. Well don’t. Having an artificial leg has its advantages. I’ve broken my right knee many times and it doesn’t hurt a bit.” ~ Terry Fox 

Before I started this blog, I asked my running friends to contribute their ideas of who should be included in this collection. The first and most frequent name that came up was Terry Fox. I had heard of the name before. My recollection was vaguely of a cancer survivor who ran across Canada, back in the days when things like this were simply not done. After reading a little more about Terry and after watching a couple of tear-invoking documentaries, I realized why he has made such a strong impact on so many people. His story is an epic legend, however, unlike legends and fables, which have a touch of truth and a great deal of creative amplification, his story is pure awesomeness without the need for exaggeration.

Terry led an inspirational life right from his childhood. He was one of those scrappy and scrawny kids who don’t like to hear “No!” for an answer. He loved sports, specifically basketball, and despite being smaller than his peers, he was more determined and he worked harder than the others. He made the high school team, and by his senior year, became the team’s captain. 

When Terry was 19, life gave him the biggest “No!” a young man could hear. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that typically starts at the knee.  He had to have his leg amputated and undergo chemotherapy. While in therapy, he saw how cancer took many innocent, young lives before it was their time to go. He also learned that progress in science and medicine made a dramatic difference in giving people a chance to survive. In his case, he had a chance of survival of 50%. If he had been diagnosed a few years earlier, he would have only had a 15% chance of survival. The final lesson, the lesson that clarified his quest for life, was that cancer research was terrifyingly underfunded. 

Inspired by the story of Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He called his quest “The Marathon of Hope.” It was time to hear “No!” again.

His body said “NO!” – As he went out on the track to practice running with his replacement leg, he would fall down … repeatedly. Terry got up … repeatedly, until he could run a lap, a mile, a half marathon.

Hi mother said “NO!” – This hurt, as she was the source of his determination in his younger years. Terry won her over and after his death she was the one who carried on his mission.

His community said “NO!” – A young mother said something to the effect of “Get that freak out of sight from my kid!”, after she saw Terry train and blood seep through his sweatpants where the prosthesis met his leg. Terry changed his training to night time.

Hi doctor said “NO!” – This was not a time when prosthesis were built for running. Terry took three of them for the run and had another one refitted during the trek.

The weather said “NO!” – Winter storms and gale winds met Terry at the start of the race. He kept running, a marathon a day against the wind.

Canada said “NO!” – When he started the race, nobody cared. He raised pennies as he ran through Quebec – nobody knew who this person was and what he was up to. Terry kept moving forward, his supporters kept spreading the news, and soon he won Canada over like no Canadian ever had in the history of the country. By the time he reached Toronto, the whole country was tuned in and he had to run hundreds of extra miles to give speeches along his trek in Ontario County.

The final “NO!” came from cancer. After thousands of miles on the run, Terry started to develop a cough and had some difficulty breathing. He kept going through the pain until it became unbearable. At mile 3,339, he stopped and asked to be taken to the hospital. The next day, after realizing that his cancer had spread to his lungs, he announced that he is suspending his race. Terry underwent treatment again, however, the disease continued to spread. He fell into a coma and died at the age of 22.

Terry Fox StatueTerry might have died, but his cause lives on. The news of his death was a national tragedy and a call to action. His Marathon of Hope not only raised the goal of one dollar per Canadian to combat the disease, but inspired millions of others to help raise funds for cancer research. There are statues and there are streets named after Terry Fox, more importantly, year after year the Terry Fox Run engages hundreds of thousands of runners and raises millions of dollars to help fight cancer.

Terry Fox run

Here’s a movie about Terry Fox, featuring Robert Duvall:

And ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, co-directed by Steve Nash:

On a More Personal Note

According to Worldwide Cancer Research Fund International: There were an estimated 12.7 million cancer cases around the world in 2008, of these 6.6 million cases were in men and 6.0 million in women. This number is expected to increase to 21 million by 2030. Personally, I never got to meet one of my grandfathers and I don’t remember the other as they were both taken away by cancer in a much too young an age. I saw a high school classmate slowly disappear from our life as he battled, and eventually succumbed to the disease.

We are all affected by cancer. We also see how brave people can be in the face of cancer and how our love of life can shine brighter when faced with the battle against it. I end with the following story of a fellow runner from my running community in Taipei:

Upon being diagnosed with breast cancer, Ms. K runs a triathlon. This was after attending a late-night charity event the night before and rushing to the train station to make the race on time. Ms. K then had surgery and began chemo in the weeks that followed. One of the questions she asked the nurse, at her first chemo treatment, was “Will I be able to run?”

Ms. K keeps running strong today and inspiring her many friends to run with her.

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He Ran Like a Demon … And it Stuck – Jack Kirk

“You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.”  ~ The man himself, Jack KirkImageHe is the man behind my favorite running quote there is (the one up above his picture). Not a week goes by when I don’t think about those words (and yes you can replace “running” with something that makes you tick). He is known as the Dipsea Demon, a title bestowed upon him by some serious runners who found themselves in his wake during one of the earlier Dipsea races. The Dipsea, famous for being the oldest trail race in the US of A , is Jack’s race. It being his race, he knew that the trick to kicking butt in it, was to take off like a demon up the Dipsea stairs and over some happily named hills like “Cardiac” and “Insult Hill”, and then to really turn it on down the hill before you hit the ravine, this is advantageous to a runner as the flat parts of the race are often narrow trench like trails where no passing is to be done. In any case, Jack was mighty nimble and mighty quick to the point where other runners gave him the nickname “Dipsea Demon”, and it stuck.

So that’s pretty cool, but why is he included in this blog you ask. Two reasons.

Firstly, Jack didn’t just get a cool nickname during a single Dipsea race, he ran like a demon not once, not thrice, not even ten times … but for 67 consecutive consecutive years that the Dipsea was held. He only stopped, after he collapsed at the top of Cardiac Hill at the healthy age of 96. He inspired Marin County and the state of California – not an easy place to stand out as a breakthrough athlete.

Jack Kirk at the DipseaThe second reason has to do with the power of words. The quote “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running,” will live forever, but if you watch this short documentary about Jack’s life as a Dipsea runner, you realize the man was a runner and a poet. You could write an entire blog entry simply by extracting Jack’s statements from the video. Here are some of the best phrases:

  • “Everybody thinks I’m finished because I’m 94 years old and still running the Dipsea. That don’t mean anything. Even if it takes me 3 hours to do it. I already gotta saying that says. Old runners never die, they reach the 676th step.” (Referring to the 675 steps that kick of the challenging part of the Dipsea race)
  • “Hard work never killed anybody, but worrying about how to get out of hard work will lay you in your grave before your time.”
  • “I like to run. I don’t push myself. Nobody says I have to run fast. All I have to do is I have to run.” (Talking about doing the Dipsea at the age of 94)
  • “I kept a record of all the miles I’ve run, all the miles I’ve run since I got out of high school.  And where I ran it, and a lot of the times I ran.  And I figured out .. this was about 20 years ago, I figured out that its about 75,000 miles And that’s nothing.”
  • Quick Exchange with a reporter: How old are you Jack?
    Jack: 94
    Reporter: How old do you feel?
    Jack: 94 … and a half

Jack passed away reached the 676th step of the Dipsea in 2007 at the age of 100. He left behind thousands of inspired young and not so young runners and a legacy of unmatched determination.

Next week we’ll look at a man who is still young but who is already a growing legend in the long long long distance type of running.

And as always, please share your thoughts on the Dipsea Demon and your inspirational runners in the comments.