Eric Walters was born in Toronto in 1957. He wrote his first novel, Stand Your Ground, in 1993 while teaching Grade 5 at Vista Heights Public School in Mississauga, Ontario. Disturbed by his students lack of interest in reading, he attempted to engage them by writing a book that featured several students from his class. It also drew on his experience as an emergency room social worker. A Member of the Order of Canada, Walters has published more than 100 books since 1993, making him Canada’s most prolific author.
Walters first became interested in writing about Terry Fox when he saw the Terry Fox memorial statue in Ottawa. He worried that younger generations may not be familiar with the story of the man he called “the most significant hero of my lifetime.” Walters wrote to the Fox family expressing his interest. The Fox family had initially been reluctant to participate in a book about Terry for young readers. (It was Terry Fox’s wish that his story be used specifically to raise money for cancer research.) Demand from educators and supporters of Terry Fox’s message, as well as Walters’s “passion for writing this story and philanthropic mindset,” ultimately convinced the Fox family to participate. Walters’s royalties from the sales of Run are donated to the Terry Fox Foundation.
Terry Fox was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, at the age of 18. His treatment included amputating his right leg above the knee and 16 months of chemotherapy. While undergoing chemotherapy, Fox resolved to run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.
He began his Marathon of Hope on 12 April 1980, dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland. Supported by a van driven by his friend Doug Alward, Fox ran more than 5,373km to just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. He was forced to stop on 1 September 1980 after the cancer returned, this time in his lungs. He died less than a year later. His legacy lives on in the form of an annual fundraising run that draws millions of Canadians, and the Terry Fox Foundation, which has raised more than $750 million for cancer research.
Winston MacDonald is a 13-year-old living in Toronto in 1980. Troubled by his parents’ recent divorce, he has begun acting out. When the novel opens, Winston is being brought home by police after running away from home. Unable to cope with his behaviour, Winston’s mother insists that his father take more responsibility for the boy. Winston’s father, a journalist, initially objects. He explains that he has to travel to Nova Scotia to write a human interest story about a young man with a prosthetic leg attempting to run across Canada. He eventually relents, and Winston travels with him to meet Terry Fox.
Winston is impressed by Terry’s attitude, particularly in spite of his battle with cancer and his gruelling running schedule. Winston also admires the close friendship between Terry and his friend and driver, Doug Alward. The three young men bond. Thanks to Winston’s father’s newspaper story, the rest of the country is soon just as inspired by Terry as Winston is, and his father is assigned to cover the rest of the run. Winston is excited, but his father is reluctant, thinking the story is over.
While searching for new, more sensational angles to the story, Winston’s father decides to write about Terry and Doug’s disagreements on the road. Winston feels this is unfair to their relationship. Hurt and angry that his father would cook up a story to sell newspapers, Winston runs away. Before he can get too far, he is found by Terry, who encourages Winston to start facing his problems and not simply run away from them.
When Winston returns, he learns his father has cancelled the story and they reconcile. Winston travels back to Toronto, where he follows the rest of Terry’s run. He even meets up with Terry when the Marathon of Hope comes through Toronto. There, Terry is happy to hear that Winston is no longer getting in trouble at school. Later, when Terry is eventually forced to end his run in Thunder Bay, Winston speaks with him over the phone. Inspired by Terry’s example, Winston vows to never give up fighting.
Reception and Legacy
Run is both the first book for young adults and the first fictionalized book about Terry Fox endorsed by Terry’s family. Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing industry trade magazine, praised Walters’ depiction of Fox, calling it “a terrific homage” that “offers readers both the very young man and the hero.” Run has been taught in schools across Canada. It received the 2004 Torgi Award for Books in Alternative Formats for its audio version. The book was also shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the year for Children award in 2004. In 2013, Run was reissued by Puffin Classics with an introduction and appendices about Fox and the Foundation.
Writing Run also inspired Walters to help expand the annual Terry Fox Run. He worked with the Terry Fox Foundation on a proposal for a National School Run Day. Though some schools had previously organized runs on an individual basis, this program encouraged schools across the country to take place in a run at a coordinated date and time. Since it began in 2005, the School Run initiative has helped increase participation in and donations to Terry Fox Runs. More than 10,000 schools and 3.5 million students participate across Canada every year.
See also: Terry Fox: Role Model and Inspiration; Editorial: Terry Fox; Editorial: The Courage of Terry Fox; The Legacy of Terry Fox: An Interview with Darrell Fox; Terry Fox and the Development of Running Prostheses.