'I hope I don't fall and break my good leg'

Remembering Terry Fox's visit to New Dundee

Marathon of Hope poster, autographed by Terry Fox and presented to Trevor Beck during Fox's visit to New Dundee on July 20, 1980. - Carolyn Hill/Photo

The phone call in the summer of 1980 came as a complete shock to Carolyn Hill. Known as Carolyn Beck in those days, she was the president of the Grand Valley District branch of the Canadian Cancer Society.

CCS Staff District Director George Carter called early in the morning to see if she could provide accommodation at her New Dundee home for a young man who would be visiting the township.

That man was Terry Fox.

Fox's Marathon of Hope took him through Petersburg, Baden and New Hamburg on Sunday, July 20.

Hill was asked to serve breakfast for Fox and his support crew of younger brother Darrell and Terry's best friend, Doug Alward, who drove the iconic support van.

"We were surprised and hurried to go shopping for things like chocolate milk, Sugar Crisp cereal, and pineapple for pineapple pancakes," she says.

Fox would get up at 4 a.m., run at least 20 kilometres, then pause for a big breakfast. Afterwards, he would sleep for a few hours before running again in the afternoon. "He had the after-breakfast sleep at our home," says Hill.

There were strict rules in the household to ensure their guest wouldn't be disturbed. Hill's daughter, Sheryl, remembers that the kids had to be quiet and were forbidden from telling the neighbours about who was staying with them.

Hill, who now lives in Ottawa, also has vivid memories of her famous visitor. "I remember it was very hot and we put a big square fan in front of the bedroom door on a mat so it would make less noise."

She recalls that their home on Casselholme Crescent was split-level, with fairly steep, carpeted stairs to the bedrooms. When Fox came down, he quipped, "I hope I don't fall and break my good leg."
When the group left to continue the run, Fox thanked his hosts for breakfast and presented Hill's son, Trevor, with an autographed Marathon of Hope poster. He also wished Trevor good luck with his ball game later that day. "I was amazed that with all he was going through he would remember something like that," says Hill.

The New Hamburg Independent, dated Wednesday, July 23, 1980 mentioned that "New Hamburg, Baden and Petersburg had spectators lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the runner and offer donations."

By the time Fox reached Wilmot, he had already raised $750,000 for cancer research. After he ran his last kilometre in Thunder Bay on Sept. 1, 1980, donations poured in and the Marathon of Hope's fundraising total reached $23.4 million.

The Terry Fox Foundation was founded in 1988 after it separated from the Canadian Cancer Society. Nigel and Cheryl Gordijk have led the Wilmot Terry Fox Run since 2013.