Read Editor Mark Reid's blog post "On The Run."
Terry Fox believed in miracles. He said he had no other choice. In this evocative photograph, Terry is silhouetted by the headlights of a police cruiser rolling behind him on an early summer morning in 1980. The image instantly evokes the memories that many Canadians still hold dear of Terry during his Marathon of Hope as well as the unwavering determination he showed during those inspiring months.
The photographer who took the picture, Peter Martin, remembers that morning well. He woke up early, eager to get the jump on the other photojournalists who would be waiting on the highway just outside of Oakville, Ontario. “I knew he started running early, and I knew I wanted to compete with the Toronto photographers and capture a better portrait,” said Martin, who was chief photographer at the Oakville Journal Record at the time.
It had rained the night before and the wet asphalt reflected the lights of passing cars.
Martin remembers capturing the photo, but had no idea it would portray Terry’s persona so vividly.
“Hell no! I had no idea it would become so big. My editor at the Oakville Journal Record didn’t like it at the time and we still joke about that today.... Looking at it objectively now, it’s a great picture, and I was really lucky to get it.”
The photo would win Martin a National Newspaper Award.
Terry was eighteen when he lost his right leg to cancer. The experience of being in a hospital with other cancer patients moved him so deeply that he devoted the rest of his life to fighting the disease.
His Marathon of Hope began April 12, 1980, on the icy Atlantic shores of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and ended on September 1 on the outskirts of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The cancer had spread to his lungs and forced him to abandon the cross-Canada run.
The hope that the disease can be beaten has not died. The annual Terry Fox run has, to date, collected more than $400 million for cancer research. Martin calls Terry a “pure heart” and remembers spending the day with him and his brother Darryl along the Trans-Canada Highway.
“If this marathon was done today it would be sponsored by companies and we’d see him on the side of a Happy Meal,” Martin said.
“But Terry just wanted ordinary Canadians to fight cancer by giving what they could.”
Beaver photo panelist Ric Ernst says the influence of Martin’s photograph has grown over time.
“When this image of Terry Fox was made, it probably didn’t have the impact on Canadians it does today,” he says, “The silhouetted figure is instantly recognized and the photograph’s dramatic light only increases the viewer’s sense of determination, dedication, and hope this Canadian hero embodied.”
Fellow panelist Michael Creagen agrees.“This photo captures the triumph of the spirit of a man to overcome his physical limitations and achieve greatness.”
But this portrait also tells the other side of Terry’s story. While bathing him in a halo of light, it leaves a dark shadow before him, one that he would face on the road to Thunder Bay. He died on June 28, 1981, at the age of twenty-two.
By Chris Webb. This story was originally featured in the August/September 2008 issue of The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine.