Covid kills official Russell marathon, but Fox fans still urged to run

The Terry Fox monument in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Courtesy photo by Sonja Carlow

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

RUSSELL — Because of COVID-19 precautions, there won’t be any congregating at the 40th annual Terry Fox Run along the recreation trail between Russell Village and Embrun Sept. 20.

In fact, there won’t be an official walk at all. Because of COVID, the Terry Fox Foundation decided not to hold the real-life nation-wide Marathon of Hope this year to avoid risk to the health and safety of volunteers and participants, many of whom are in high-risk groups.

In addition, volunteers couldn’t be expected to police provincial health guidelines on distancing and masks, and the foundation’s liability insurance could have been compromised. So, like so many other events, the Fox Run has gone virtual, with donations to be made on line.

Cindy Saucier (left) and Donna Lafrance sell Terry Fox t-shirts outside Scotiabank in Russell. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

“It’s unfortunate things are so different for the 40th anniversary,” said Cindy Saucier, lead organizer of the Russell Township leg of the marathon for more than 20 years. The local event began 19 years before that, Saucier noted, fully supported by local businesses, fire departments, paramedics, the Russell Lions Club, the Russell Agricultural Society and many more.

Over those years, there have been dozens of recurring volunteers including high school students who cheer on participants. Participation has ranged from 200 to 400 depending on the year, with live music, face painting, warmups, donated snacks, and certificates of completion.

Support has fluctuated over the years. In 2019, $8,223 was raised, a drop from previous years, an outcome Saucier has in the past attributed to competing fundraisers. This year’s marathon theme is “One Day, Your Way.”

Since the first organized Russell run in 1981, township participants have raised just over $318,267 for the Fox Foundation dedicated to the memory and cancer research drive launched by Canada’s iconic one-legged runner who made it from St. John’s to Thunder Bay 40 years ago – 3,339 miles in 143 days – before the disease bested him.

Saucier’s admiration of Fox knows no bounds, to the extent she wrote a poem about him and his extraordinary feat: “On one leg he ran 26 miles every day. In many of our hearts your memory will stay.”

“He inspires me and makes me emotional to this day, ‘’ said the township council member. ‘’It was his strength and perseverance. He was and is a true Canadian hero. I still remember where I was and what I was doing when the news came out that Terry couldn’t continue.”

While there won’t be a sanctioned walk this year, Saucier said smaller family groups and individuals are welcome to go out on the trail on or before the 20th and complete the 10 km route (one way) in Fox’s name: “They can walk, run, rollerblade, go by wheelchair or with their dog.”

There will be no traditional activities which encourage congregating such as warmups. Second-in-Command Donna Lafrance, who has been involved for over 10 years, will join Saucier for a few hours on the big day to hand out certificates and stickers at the trail parking lot in the village. They’ll also be selling colourful commemorative t-shirts and, in keeping with the spirit of the times, marathon logo face masks.

“We’ll do it bigger and better next year.”

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