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Fun, family event in memory of a Canadian hero

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Organizers trying to build support for Terry Fox Run in Whistler

If it wasn’t for organizations like the Terry Fox Foundation, Joanne Petak maintains she would not be alive today.

In 1997 she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was just 27-years-old.

"I for one would not be standing here today if it weren’t for the funds that are raised from organizations like this," said Petak, who has been in remission for the past six years.

For that reason, and because she also lost her mom to breast cancer, Petak organizes the annual Terry Fox Run in Whistler.

On Sunday, Sept. 14 in 48 countries around the world more than 1 million participants will run 10 kilometres to raise money for cancer research.

But Petak said the run isn’t just about the money. It’s also about remembering one of Canada’s heroes.

"To me Terry Fox is the quintessential Canadian hero as far as I’m concerned, so it’s not all just about raising money for cancer research," she said.

"To me it’s really about the future of having this unbelievable hero for Canadians in ensuring that his name is carried on so that all children know and recognize him as a hero and his name never gets lost as time goes on."

Twenty-three years ago Terry Fox, who lost his right leg to cancer when he was 18-years-old, had a dream of running clear across Canada.

His goal was to raise at least $1 from every Canadian. He called it the Marathon of Hope.

On April 12, 1980 he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland and for the next 143 days he ran on average 42 kilometres, or the length of a marathon, daily.

By Thunder Bay, Ontario however, the cancer had returned, spreading to his lungs, and he was in too much pain to finish the run. But that didn’t change the fact that the young man from B.C. had rallied a whole nation to his cause.

"It’s one thing to run across Canada, but now, people are really going to know what cancer is," he said at the time.

Canadians came out in their droves to support Terry Fox and by February 1981 the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope fund reached $24.17 million. That was $1 for every Canadian.

Five months later Terry Fox died. He was 22-years-old.

"In Terry’s original marathon it was if you’ve given a dollar (then) you’re part of the Marathon of Hope," said Clare Adams, provincial director for B.C. and Yukon of the Terry Fox Foundation.

"(The run) is not about the biggest and who raises the most money. It’s about people coming out together and raising funds for cancer research. As long as people continue to be part of it then I guess he still runs on."

Whistler’s run will be just one of 600 different runs around the world this year.

Over the past few years about 100 people have come out to support the event, which includes a barbecue organized by the Lions Club, live entertainment and face painting.

Despite all the efforts to promote it in Whistler, the Terry Fox Run is not getting more popular, said Petak.

This year she wants more people to come out even if they’re not going to run 10 km. They can enjoy the morning, remember Terry Fox and make a donation to the cause, big or small.

"The one disappointing thing that I have to say is that it’s not (getting busier in Whistler) despite enormous efforts in terms of all the volunteers, all of the PR, all of the posters, everything that we’ve done," said Petak.

"I think it’s a wonderful event regardless and we still continue to raise several thousand dollars, but we could raise so much more."

The Terry Fox Run has become the largest single day fundraising event for cancer research in the world. More than $23 million was raised in total last year.

Registration for the race begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14 at the Riverside Campground. The run begins at 10 a.m. and participants can run, walk or bike the 10 kilometre route. Pledge sheets are available at Meadow Park, Riverside Campground and other locations around Whistler.

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