It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Courage in Small Packages

Today my sweetie and I went for our usual weekend walk downtown. On summer Sundays, one of the two roads that run parallel to the canal is closed to vehicles, and so this is our chosen route. Cyclists, runner, and bladers typically keep to the road; walkers and teeny tot cyclists stay on the paved footpath beside the canal.

People of all shapes, sizes, and ages take advantage of this scenic walk, so we’re used to it being busy, but today it was especially so. We figured it’s because, like us, people are aware that summer is drawing to a close and winter looms. Best get out there and savour.

Pedestrians, roller bladers, and cyclists, many towing babies and toddlers in trailers or older children on those detachable trail-a-bikes… people of all ages and sizes take over this road. We’ve seen people in wheelchairs, and people on those skis with wheels and ski poles. Today we saw something new: a rickshaw, carrying a man and a couple of children. From our position on the footpath, we only got a partial glance at the rickshaw as it passed on the road, but we couldn’t help but notice that those who approached it on the road were applauding.

Why, we wondered? Cheering on the rickshaw runner, pulling two or three bodies up that long, slow hill? A friendly gesture, but these guys go miles with those things, and this wide smooth road really wasn’t all that challenging.

Then we approached a refreshment station, and the picture became clearer. Refreshment stations mean a formal run is occuring. There are half a dozen runs for one charity or another that happen over the summer. Usually it’s obvious when one is occuring: all runners wear matching race t-shirts, or have numbers pinned to their backs, which we hadn’t seen thus far. Only after seeing the refreshment station did we notice that a fair number – though far from all – of the runners were wearing race t-shirts. It was the annual Terry Fox run.

For those of you unfamiliar with this Canadian hero, Terry Fox was a young man who suffered through bone cancer. Eventually, one leg was amputated. After he had recovered and learned to walk with his artificial leg, Terry decided to go on a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research. For 143 days, this incredible young man ran a marathon a day. A marathon a day. On one leg. I can still picture his hop-and-skip gait, his mop of curls tossing, his smile seemingly unquenchable, as he lurched on and on and on. And on.

Until one day, he stumbled and fell. Could not get up. Was carried away on a stretcher. His cancer had returned, and this time he did not win his fight. He was not quite twenty-three.

This was 25 years ago. Every year since then, Terry Fox runs are held across the country, the proceeds going, as did the original run, to cancer research.

So why were people clapping and cheering for that rickshaw? When it turned and passed us a second time, we realized. The passengers in the vehicle were four: a young man, and three children, none of the children more than 8 years old. Two of them wore surgical masks. One was bald.

They have cancer. And they were participating in the race the only way they could. And all along the way, people, running for their cause, cheered, clapped, and whistled encouragement to them.

I cried. It was a good day.

September 18, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments