ABU DHABI // Judith Fox-Adler was 14 when her big brother Terry set off running across Canada. Even the world's leading long-distance athletes would find the 8,000km trek a huge challenge. But Fox was running on an artificial right leg, having lost his limb to cancer three years earlier.
His fund-raising Marathon of Hope covered 42km a day, and captured the country's attention. "Every night, we would watch to see if there was something about him on the news or wait for his telephone call or for postcards," Ms Fox-Adler said. Months into the attempt, a newspaper offered to fly the family from their home in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, to Toronto, Ontario, for a reunion with Fox.
They got up at 4.30am and stood in the cold beside the road. "We were not allowed to go to him," said Ms Fox-Adler. "We waited and waited. Then to see him slowly coming, this little figure bobbing in the distance over the hill, the urge to run to him was overwhelming. "He just kept running and running and getting closer and closer - and he ran right by us. That's how focused he was on his run. "Of course, because he was my brother, I just thought 'what a jerk'. Then my mother yelled 'Terrance Stanley Fox!', and he just stopped dead in his tracks." Finally the family was able to go to him, showering him with hugs and kisses.
Fox wanted his run to inspire each of his compatriots to donate one Canadian dollar (Dh3.52) to cancer research. He never finished his journey. The cancer returned and he died the following year. Thirty years later, however, his spirit lives on. Tomorrow morning, it will be alive on the Corniche, when more than 15,000 people will run, walk and rollerblade an 8.5km route in the annual Abu Dhabi Terry Fox Run. Organisers hope the event will raise Dh700,000 (US$190,000) for cancer research.
Ms Fox-Adler travelled to Abu Dhabi this week, the 15th anniversary of the first Terry Fox Run in the capital, to take part in the event and tell local youngsters her brother's story. Fox was 18 in 1977 when, after developing pain in his right knee, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. The sports enthusiast was told by doctors that, as well as chemotherapy, he needed surgery to remove most of his right leg.
"The night before his operation he was given a Runner's World magazine by his basketball coach," said Ms Fox-Adler. "In it was an article about a man that did the New York Marathon with an artificial leg. Terry thought that if this man can run then I can run one day as well." After his operation, Fox learnt how to walk on his artificial leg, and then run. He ran a race from Prince George, British Columbia, to Boston, Massachusetts, finishing last.
"After that, he told our mother he had a dream of running across Canada for cancer," said Ms Fox-Adler. In April 1980, her brother dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean and set out, supported by sponsors and a team of volunteers. But by September, after covering more than 5,000km, his cancer had returned and he was forced to quit. A television network kept up Fox's fund raising and raised C$24 million, fulfilling one of his goals. His cancer, however, spread to his lungs. He died the following June, aged 22.
The first Terry Fox Run was held in September that year. It has been embraced by 28 countries, raising C$500m for cancer research. "Terry died knowing about the run," said Ms Fox-Alder. "It is very satisfying for us to know that Terry knew that and to think that, 30 years later, we're here telling his story." The UAE has taken up the cause in a big way, holding the annual runs in the cooler, winter months in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This month saw the first event in Ras al Khaimah.
In 2007, the UAE's runs raised the most money outside Canada. Internationally, Dubai and Abu Dhabi attracted the most participants. The support was natural, said Sheikha Sheikha bint Saif Al Nayhan, the daughter-in-law of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. She is a patron of Al Shoub School, one of the stops on Ms Fox-Adler's tour this week. "Charity is in our culture and religion," said Sheikha Sheikha.
All the money raised at Terry Fox runs outside Canada stays in-country. For more than 10 years, the Terry Fox Foundation has provided an annual grant to cancer researchers at UAE University. In one project funded by the grants, Dr Seha Muddin Gladeri is studying whether circumin - a molecule found in circuma, the spice used in biryani - can reduce cancer cells. Dr Charles Leduc, the associate professor in charge of the programme, said: "The research has covered all kinds of stuff - from looking at viruses that can change the genetic code of the cancer cell, to chemical products that kill cancer cells, to natural products that will kill cancer cells."
Fox's legacy continued to resonate with people because it was a story of hope, determination, perseverance, selflessness and generosity of spirit, said Breeda McClew, who helps to organise the international runs. "Take the message from Terry: 'Until I was diagnosed with cancer I didn't know the stuff I was made of. But don't wait until something terrible happens to you. Do it now'." email@example.com