Every year, since 1998; Cuban streets are invaded by a swarm of runners putting in their best effort to complete the three-kilometre-long Terry Fox Race, in remembrance of the legendary young Canadian who has become a worldwide icon in the fight against cancer.
The race, which is traditionally run in March, is of an exclusively participative nature. Everyone is invited to join in; from children to the elderly, as well as disabled people in crutches and wheelchairs, they are all happy to take part in the annual event.
Ives Gagnon, Canada’s Ambassador in Cuba, said of the race:
“This is an amazing event, just like the research carried out in Cuba for cancer’s early detection and cure. The Cuban people's spirit always strives toward victory, and their spirit is clearly seen here.”
But the race is not limited to Havana. Beyond the country’s capital city, long walks and popular regional races take place islandwide, in urban areas and rural ones. The event’s popularity has grown and reached such levels of greatness, that the Terry Fox Foundation acknowledges the Cuban edition as the largest outside of Canada. This is no small feat considering that over 60 different nations currently participate in the annual race, gathering millions of runners from the world over.
Who was Terry Fox?
Terrance Stanley Fox’s brave stance in the face of a life-consuming disease stands as one of the greatest monuments to human will and courage. He was just 18 years old when doctors had to amputate his right leg due to a type of bone cancer, but instead of sinking into depression, he decided to keep running with an orthopedic leg and play basketball in a league for the disabled.
It was in late 1979 that he began to make the necessary arrangements for the race that would eventually immortalise him. The goal was as ambitious as it was admirable. To achieve his ultimate dream, he would have to run across all of Canada from east to west, in a compelling bid to collect funds for scientific research against cancer. His aim was to collect at least one dollar from each of the 24 million of his country’s inhabitants.
His incredible adventure began in April of the following year in St. John’s, Newfoundland; running thereafter a daily distance of approximately 42 KMS, the equivalent to a marathon race. The project foresaw the finish line to be in Victoria, British Columbia; sometime in the month of September. By this time he would have covered 8,000 kilometres.
It didn’t take long for the young man’s incredible feat to make him famous. By the time he reached Ontario, he had become a nationwide celebrity, participating in public functions and ceremonies along with businessmen, athletes and politicians. People loved him and his tremendous example of bravery and defiance touched the hearts of many a cancer-stricken Canadian.
However, the spreading of the cancer to his lungs forced him to put an end to his project in the outskirts of Thunder Bay, after having covered a distance of 5,373 km in 143 days. Refusing to give up, Terry’s great heart did not fail him then, and he immediately decided to recover in order to complete his race. Sadly, he died nine months later, one month away from his 23th birthday.
Up until 2012, the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope had collected 600 million Canadian dollars for scientific research to fight cancer.
As a never-ending tribute to Terry, Cuba promotes and runs the Terry Fox race with an undying will and love that has received high praise from the family of the late Canadian athlete and activist.
Among the race’s main promoters in Cuba is Carlos Gattorno, who has stated that the initiative came from the Canadian Embassy in Cuba.
“With sponsorship from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we created an organising team that has worked for the last seventeen years to support the race. From the very beginning we studied Terry Fox’s life and works; we learned about his legacy and identified ourselves with the heroism of his purpose.”
This marathon; unlike Marabana which is also run annually, does not require previous enrollment from participants. A special running circuit is always carefully laid out in order to allow cancer-stricken people to trot or walk the distance according to their ability. At the finishing line, cancer-stricken runners meet those who ran the whole circuit. The purpose is obvious; thus, every single one of the participants; each one of them, emerges a winner.