If it were any other year, Kailee Rutherford would have joined a pack of runners a thousand strong for her annual jaunt memorializing the legacy of Terry Fox.
Today, however, in the throes of a global pandemic, the 24-year-old cancer survivor will lace up for a solo jog down a gravel road near her family home in Holland, Man., to mark the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope.
Forty years ago, on Sept. 1, 1980, Fox, 22, concluded his attempt to run across Canada, after 143 days and 5,373 km, outside of Thunder Bay, Ont. The cancer he was fighting had spread to his lungs. He died June 28, 1981, in New Westminster, B.C.
‘A huge thing that he did was spread awareness by doing the run, and indirectly it led to the type of outcome and treatment plan that I was facing, and how much better my odds were… For me, it was the least I could do to give back’‐ Cancer survivor Kailee Rutherford
Since Rutherford was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — the same type of cancer Fox had — at 16 years old, she has championed the Terry Fox Foundation at every opportunity.
Just a month after receiving her diagnosis, she began giving talks about her experience at schools, and later organized runs in Portage la Prairie and hosted events at University of Manitoba campus where she’s pursuing a master’s degree in biochemistry and medical genetics.
“A huge thing that he did was spread awareness by doing the run, and indirectly it led to the type of outcome and treatment plan that I was facing, and how much better my odds were,” Rutherford said.
“Part of his treatment was definitely amputation, whereas now for me I was able to have limb salvage surgery, so I can still have my leg,” she said.
“For me, it was the least I could do to give back.”
In its 40th year, the nationwide event to raise awareness and funds for cancer research was forced to go virtual owing to the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, thousands of participants are still expected to take part in tradition by getting active in their community today and posting their efforts to social media.
Though COVID-19 has upended so much, Rutherford said the Terry Fox Run is one constant she’s glad to still have.
“Yes, the global pandemic is happening and is part of our life, hopefully in the short term, but probably for the next year or so this will be our reality,” she said.
“Whether it was through cancer treatment or a pandemic, I found then as well as now, that it does help if you can continue to hold on to some normalcy, even though your version of normal doesn’t look the way it used to.”
Early concerns that without an event, fundraising for the foundation would suffer were allayed with $40,000 raised locally, said Kim Walker, co-organizer of the Winnipeg run. The Kinsmen Club of Winnipeg has matched that figure, and Walker is challenging Manitobans to help the campaign hit the $100,000 mark.
“This year, instead of having a thousand people at the Assiniboine Park doing the run together and celebrating it, we’re doing it just in our little bubbles,” Walker said. “So this year is more like Terry had to do it, than any other year.”
Though Walker said the months leading up to the anniversary event posed many challenges for the organizing committee, her team was committed to making sure the run, even at a distance, would keep going.
“Terry is my personal hero for sure. He’s outstanding in this overwhelming task and breaking it down into smaller tasks to make it easier to accomplish. Setting goals and overcoming all obstacles was what he was all about,” she said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.