It started with the loss of her stepmother to cancer. Five years later, Marissa Hill is still running—literally and figuratively—the Markham-Unionville Terry Fox Run.
The event, one of the city’s largest charity runs, returns Sept. 16, with an ambitious $70,000 fundraising goal.
Hill participated in her first Terry Fox Run when she was in the first grade. Now, she volunteers as its director for the city, a task that she took on after a very personal brush with cancer.
“In the spring of 2013, I lost my stepmom to cancer,” she said. “I just happened, a few weeks later, to see (the Terry Fox Foundation) had a need for an organizer in Markham. It all pieced itself together. I wanted to do something to honour her, remember her and it fell into my lap. I thought it was … a good opportunity to carry on her journey, but also the journeys of everyone else who is impacted by cancer.”
Hill, whose day job is at Cancer Care Ontario, also saw her mother battle and survive breast cancer.
She says she’s been encouraged by how much the Terry Fox Foundation has done to improve the odds for cancer patients and work towards a cure. The run has raised $750 million since it was founded in 1981 by Isadore Sharp with the blessing and guidance of Terry Fox himself.
Markhamites, alone, have raised $1.1 million since the first Markham-Unionville run in 1982. Money goes towards researching all types of cancer, with a particular emphasis on the more rare cancers and those impacting children.
It is free to enter and open to people of all ages and ability levels, though the Terry Fox Foundation does ask runners to donate or fundraise.
Hill expects as many as 700 people to participate, twice as many as when she took the helm of the run, which Fox wanted to be inclusive and non-competitive.
Fox would have turned 60 years old this summer. Even 38 years after what was intended to be his own cross-country run, the Terry Fox name and the dream are very much alive.
“I think the reason why the run is still so vibrant speaks to Terry himself,” Hill said. “He was so charismatic and he was so passionate about what he was doing. He really was doing something so new and so inspiring to so many people. Whether you learn about him now or you learned about him 30 years ago, I think his story is still so captivating and his bravery and his honesty and the determination through which he did all of that.”
Despite Canada’s embrace of Fox as a hero, Hill said she’s seen an increasing awareness of his legacy among immigrant communities, citing a growing number of Terry Fox Run chapters in countries as far away as India, Egypt, China and Malaysia. The message of hope from Fox, and from the run in his name, is a universal one.
“Cancer is not a death sentence for everybody anymore,” she said. “To know that we’re a part of that is incredibly rewarding.”
If you go…
Markham-Unionville Terry Fox Run
Registration at 9 a.m.
Opening ceremony at 9:40 a.m., with open start from 10 a.m. to noon
Park behind Unionville library, 15 Library Lane