There came a point during George Maratos’s leg of the Klondike Road Relay race last week when he was struggling up the steep hills leading out of Skagway.
But a voice in his head made the challenge a little bit easier.
“I pictured Terry Fox looking down on me and saying ‘C’mon man,’” he said.
Fox, a national icon and Canadian hero, ran the equivalent of 143 marathons in a row during his epic cross-country journey to raise money for cancer research in 1980.
Starting in Newfoundland, Fox ran 5,373 kilometres before having to stop in Ontario after doctors discovered his cancer had returned. He died June 28, 1981 of pneumonia.
Whitehorse will host its annual Terry Fox run on Sunday, the 35th anniversary of his Marathon of Hope.
For the past seven years, Maratos has organized the Terry Fox Run in Whitehorse along with Jennifer Moorlag, who coordinates the volunteers.
“He’s always been a part of my life, he’s someone I grew up hearing about,” Maratos said.
“My folks made a point of telling me his story. It’s just an easy cause to get behind because of his accomplishments, especially from an athlete’s perspective.”
Maratos was too young to see Fox run but he did manage to see Steve Fonyo finish his cross-country run in 1984, he said.
Fonyo, 18 at the time, suffered from the same form of cancer Fox did – osteosarcoma, a cancer that often starts near the knees – and ran across Canada to raise money for cancer research.
Every year about 200 participants take part in the Whitehorse run, Maratos said, raising an average of $6,000.
Charity runs are also taking place Sunday in Dawson City and Watson Lake and Wednesday in Carmacks.
Eighty-four cents of every dollar goes towards cancer research. To date, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $700 million for cancer research worldwide.
The foundation has very few full-time staff and doesn’t focus on selling any merchandise, Maratos said, so that most of the funds raised go straight to the cause.
It’s a testament to who Terry Fox was as a person, he added.
“The fact is that when Terry found out the cancer was going to win, he had to borrow money from his father to buy his mom a Christmas present,” he said.
“(Fox) didn’t keep a single penny. It was all about the cause.”
When the final amount is tallied up after the run, Maratos always makes a call down to the foundation’s head office in Vancouver.
They make sure everyone in the office is listening. “We’ve got Whitehorse on the line,” they say.
“It’s a pretty special moment,” Maratos said.
Moorlag has a dedicated team of volunteers who begin to show interest in the race as early as July, she said.
Organizing ramps up in August when she gets together with Maratos to coordinate the event.
About 15 core volunteers come back year after year, Moorlag said, and others are recruited as needed.
“It’s the 35th anniversary and it’s amazing to see how moved people still are, I know that’s why I still do it,” she said.
Participants have a certificate on which they can put stickers from each year they took part in the run.
For some adults who have been running for years, their tattered certificates are covered in stickers, she said.
Even the youngest participants know who Terry Fox was and what he accomplished.
“When you have a five- or six-year-old who knows who he was, and he’s been gone for 35 years, that’s extremely moving,” she said.
Moorlag said she spoke to someone this week who mentioned they saw Fox run near Thunder Bay, Ont., at the very end of his Marathon of Hope. She said she had chills just talking about it.
Moorlag was a young teen in Grade 8 the year Fox ran. She remembers giving a speech about him at a mall in Winnipeg as part of her public speaking class.
“For a lot of Canadians, that connection to him runs really deep,” she said.
Registration for this year’s Terry Fox Run in Whitehorse takes place at 12 p.m. on Sunday at Rotary Peace Park.
The 10 and five-kilometre runs kick off at 1 p.m. and close at 3 p.m.
In Dawson City the event goes Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Waterfront Park in front of the gazebo.
In Watson Lake that day, registration starts at 12:30 p.m. and the run goes until 3 p.m. at Wye Lake Park.
Carmacks’ run is on Sept. 23 at Tantalus School starting at 11 a.m.
More information on all of the events can be found at www.terryfox.org
Contact Myles Dolphin at