United in spirit, Wilmot continues to try like Terry Fox

Wilmot Terry Fox Run organizers Cheryl and Nigel Gordijk have had to try new ideas for staying engaged with the community. This year’s official run t-shirt, worn by Nigel, is available from New Hamburg Office Pro.

September has been recognized as Terry Fox month ever since the Canadian icon ended his Marathon of Hope on the first of the month in 1980. COVID-19 has put a damper on plans for celebrating the 40th anniversary of this historic event, so the Wilmot Terry Fox Run’s organizers have been trying new ideas.

Community events during spring and much of the summer were cancelled due to concerns about the ability to enforce physical distancing. That meant no cultural events, no information booths, and less in-person community engagement.

“We love being out there and talking to people about Terry,” said Wilmot Terry Fox Run co-organizer Cheryl Gordijk. “People still get emotional when they think about him.” This is the eighth year that she and her husband, Nigel, have led the community fundraiser.

Fundraising has been “messy, but effective”, he said. The local run receives strong support from the business community, but he didn’t feel comfortable asking businesses to host fundraisers while they’re recovering from the coronavirus. “I basically sent begging letters to a select few business owners and asked them to send financial donations if they could. The response was incredible.” The straightforward campaign added over $11,500 to 2020’s running total.

The annual Concert for Terry takes place at New Hamburg’s St. George’s Anglican Church on the last Saturday of July, but this year it was held online. Musicians donated pre-recorded performances, including Allister Bradley, Dana K and the Remedy, and Kitchener-Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo. CBC’s Craig Norris acted as M.C. for the Facebook Live streamed concert, which raised nearly $900, just $100 less than last year’s church-held concert. “Considering we’d never done anything like this before, we’re really pleased with the outcome,” said Nigel.

On August 8, the Wilmot Terry Fox Run hosted its first bottle drive, with the assistance of about 20 helpers in the Personally Fit parking lot. That netted close to $3,000, but it was hard work. Nigel noted that “Every penny was earned with the sweat and aching muscles of our volunteers.”

Coming up in mid-September is an Art for Terry auction that will feature work donated by visual artists from across Waterloo region, including photographer Bryn Gladding and Anishinaabe illustrator Luke Swinson.

Due to a COVID-related supply chain disruption, the popular Terry Fox Run t-shirts didn’t arrive until late August, about two months later than usual. New Hamburg Office Pro is selling them in-store, with 100 percent of sales revenue going to the Terry Fox Foundation.

Nigel says his highlight so far this year is the unveiling of a Terry Fox memorial in Petersburg Park on July 20, 40 years to the day after Fox ran through Wilmot. “It’s been a dream of mine for a couple of years.” The guest of honour was Nancy Brodrecht, a Punkeydoodles Corners resident who is celebrating 25 years as a cancer survivor. She unveiled the commemorative plaque at an emotional ceremony.

The Wilmot Terry Fox Run is going ahead as planned on Sunday, September 20, but with some changes. Participants would usually meet at the New Hamburg Community Centre for the opening ceremonies before setting off together. However, with over a hundred people taking part in the local event, ensuring public safety would have been a challenge. Earlier this year, the Terry Fox Foundation decided to change things up and hold Virtual Terry Fox Runs across the country.

People can sign up and collect pledges online at www.wilmotterrytox.ca, or email moc.liamg@nurxofyrrettomliw for a pledge sheet on which to record cash and cheque contributions.

Branded “One Day, Your Way”, participants can take part by running, walking, cycling or wheeling, wherever they are, at any time of day.

“We’ll be united in spirit, but not in person,” said Cheryl.