The volunteer organizer of the West Shore Terry Fox run has raised money for cancer research tirelessly for 17 years, but now the effort has become profoundly personal.
Dave Hill, 54, is passing the torch to his daughter Courtney as he fights his own battle against esophageal cancer. He is working through his second round of chemotherapy.
“I’ve got cancer now. I was told last November,” Dave says. “When the doctor says it, it really hits you.”
“It hits home to why we are out there doing this run every year,” added Courtney, 22. “I have big shoes to fill.”
The West Shore Terry Fox run is small, perhaps attracting 80 to 100 people to the picnic shelter at West Shore Parks and Recreation, depending on the weather. They keep it fun and light hearted – the crowd is always warmed up with the hokey-pokey routine. Later in the morning, Dave fires up the barbecue and serves lunch.
“We usually bring in $3,500 to $4,000. It’s a nice size run,” he says. “You see a lot of familiar faces and a few new people every year. It’s always a lot of fun.”
At 17 years, it might be the longest continuously running Terry Fox event in the country. It helps that it’s become a family affair to seek business support for donated flyers and food.
“A lot of people get burned out after five or 10 years,” Dave says. “Because ours is small and well organized makes it easier.”
As long-time run organizers, the Hills have met key figures in Terry Fox’s life – his three siblings, Fox’s high school coach who encouraged him to run the Marathon of Hope, his friend Doug Alward who drove with Fox on the marathon in 1980, his parents Betty and Rolly, and the nurse who announced his death to the world on June 28, 1981. Each gave a new insight into Fox’s life.
This year in Port Coquitlam, the Hill family attended the funeral of Betty Fox, who played a vital role in establishing the Terry Fox Foundation.
“I’m really glad we went. We were lucky to get in the church rather than the overflow,” Dave says. “The service gave me a new perspective on Betty Fox. She never really talked about her family.”
The Terry Fox Foundation donated $27.5 million to cancer research in Canada in 2011, and has raised $550 million over the years. For each run Dave grapples with the foundation’s vow to keep overhead low – event organizers have a “zero dollar” budget.
About five per cent of the foundation’s fundraising goes to administration and 85 per cent goes to cancer research. About 10 per cent goes to printing Terry Fox T-shirts and fundraising collateral, with T-shirt sales going back to the foundation.
“Having 85 cents of every dollar going to research is a good number,” Dave says. “It’s another good reason to support the run.”
In the ebb and flow of chemotherapy, Dave expects to still be barbecuing hotdogs at this year’s event, although his daughter is the primary organizer. Courtney keeps on a brave face, but her dad’s illness has taken it’s emotional toll.
“It’s tough but getting a little easier. I still have my moments,” she says.
“Cancer has been with me since I was born. My nanny (grandmother) passed away from cancer when I was 10 months old. Cancer has affected my friends, my family, my co-workers, and now my dad. Cancer stops for no one.”
“We just take it one day at a time,” Dave says. “We just want to keep giving back to the community in the meantime. All you can do is try to give back.”
The West Shore Terry Fox run is a 10 kilometre or a 2.4 km walk or run around the West Shore recreation chip trail on Sept. 18, starting at the picnic shelter in the lower part of the property.
Registration is at 9 a.m. and the run/walk is at 10 a.m., after the traditional hokey-pokey warm-up. Volunteers are needed to distribute flyers and on the run day. Call 250-478-8807 to volunteer.
Terry Fox T-shirts are on sale at the Langford Frontrunners, with all proceeds going to the Terry Fox Foundation. For more information see www.terryfox.org.