Terry Fox run expected to draw thousands

More than 20,000 runners and walkers will limber up and continue the worthy cause that a 21-year-old began almost 30 years ago: defeating cancer.

February 20, 2009 /  Abu Dhabi / Thousands of people participate in the annual Terry Fox Run on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. All the proceeds will go to fund cancer research in the UAE. (Sammy Dallal / The National)

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ABU DHABI // By organising five Terry Fox Runs expected to draw more than 20,000 participants, volunteers continue to support the legacy of a young Canadian who dreamed of finding a cure for cancer.

The events kick off this morning in Al Ain and wrap up in Ras al Khaimah on March 4. New this year is a run in Fujairah, which will take place on February 26.

Terry Fox runs are held every September in thousands of cities around the world, but the UAE holds its events during the coolerwinter months.

The first run was held in Dubai in 1992, and organisers estimate that since 1995 about 65,000 people have participated in UAE-based Terry Fox events, raising more than C$1.4 million. The Emirates has become one of the top supporters of the cause outside Canada.

Although the Terry Fox Foundation no longer ranks countries by listing separate figures for fund-raising and participation, in 2007 the UAE raised more money than any nation outside Canada, topping a list of 29 countries. In addition, the runs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi attracted the largest number of participants - 12,000 and 10,000, respectively - outside of Canadian events. Abu Dhabi hosted its first run in 1995.

The far-flung runs are inspired by Fox, who after losing his leg to a rare form of bone cancer attempted to run across Canada by completing the equivalent of a full marathon each day for 143 days, about 5,373km. His "Marathon of Hope" ended after five months when doctors discovered that cancer had spread to his lungs. He died in June 1981, at 21. By that September, the first runs in his honour launched a worldwide movement that has raised more than Dh1.8 billion for cancer research.

In the UAE, the Dh7.8 million raised over the years has funded 35 cancer-related research projects at UAE University.

"No matter how much money is raised or how many participate, the dream is kept alive," said Nafisa Taha, a founding member of the Abu Dhabi Terry Fox run and chairwoman of this year's event. "What's important is each dirham contributed will be used to find a cure for cancer. The beauty about it is the money stays in the country where it is raised."

More than 12,000 people are expected to participate in The 16th Abu Dhabi Terry Fox Run next Friday, and organisers are hoping to top last year's tally of Dh650,000. Sheikh Sultan bin Hamdan, advisor to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, is scheduled to present a grant of Dh300,000 to the UAE University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Organisers for the Dubai Terry Fox Run are expecting more than 8,000 people, while the second run in RAK could top last year's turnout of 700 participants. Participants can walk or run on courses that max out at8.5km.

Donna Wilson said she and her colleagues at the Higher Colleges of Technology beganorganising a Terry Fox Run in Fujairah in September of last year.

"There are about 50 volunteers in the run day itself," Ms Wilson said. "And we're really hoping for a good turnout."

One of the organisers of Al Ain's event, Walter Cramerstetter, is looking forward toparticipating in his fourth event here.

"In our runs in the past, I've seen many, many nationalities - Emiratis, different Arab countries, Western expats, Asians and people from the subcontinent," he said. "It's like cancer: it affects all walks of life. There's nobody who is not affected by it, no matter what level of society they belong to."

All money raised, including donations and T-shirt sales, goes to cancer research. Dubai has implemented an online donation process at http://www.premiermarathons.com/rating/Dubai_Terry_Fox_Run