Terry Fox’s Cuban Legacy Run Resonates with Cubans Because It Reflects Their Values Print

By PHILIP THERIAULT (Chronicle Herald)

Sat, September 17 - 4:55 AM

A Cuban family sits on the steps of the Capitol Building in Havana near the starting line of the 2010 Terry Fox Run. Their home-made sign reads “Cuba X Terry” (Cuba loves Terry).

Tomorrow, all across Canada, upwards of a million Canadians will participate in the Terry Fox Run, as they have done since Sept. 13, 1981. Now, 30 years later, runs are held in many nations at various times of the year.

For the past several years, I have organized and led small groups of volunteers who travel to Havana, Cuba, to help students learn English at the Facultad de Lenguas Extranjeras (FLEX), the second-language school at the University of Havana. Each year, the volunteers have the opportunity to participate or attend the Havana Terry Fox Run which is held on the Saturday closest to the spring equinox: In 2011, the run was held on March 19.

Since the first Cuban run was held in 1998, it has grown to become one of the largest Terry Fox Runs held outside of Canada. This year, 6,176 individual runs were held at various sites all over the island, with more than 1.8 million people participating. This year’s run raised more than $30,000, in Canadian dollars, for the Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology of Cuba. According to the Terry Fox Foundation ( www.terryfox.org), over $400,000 has been raised for cancer research in the 13 years Cuba has participated in the Terry Fox Run.

These figures would be impressive for any country, but when one realizes that the average monthly salary in Cuba is approximately $25, they evolve into being remarkable.

In recognition of this countrywide embrace of the Terry Fox ideals, members of the Terry Fox family — including his mother Betty, father Rolland (Rolly) and sister Judith Fox-Adler — visited Cuba in 2010. On Saturday, March 20, at 10 a.m., Betty officially started the run which, as it does every year, began and finished in front of the Capitol Building — the unofficial boundary separating Central Havana from Old Havana. We, the Canadian volunteers, were present, along with people from FLEX, as runners, walkers and observers.

The following morning, a special performance by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba was held in their honour. The volunteers felt privileged to attend this concert and witness the affection that the audience afforded the Fox family when they were introduced.

The Havana Terry Fox Run has a celebratory air: Many colourful banners hang from the buildings around the Capitol; people come dressed in costumes representing groups or organizations to which they belong; and there is always at least one long dragon float leading various martial arts societies.

Habaneros participate in wheelchairs and on crutches; family and friends help those who are visually impaired. Some participate on rollerblades; others run, walk or amble. Doctors walk with bartenders and grandparents walk with grandchildren. The Havana run is truly cross-generational and inclusive. The city seems to come together to make this a festive experience while at the same time realizing the important nature of the event.

People with cancer in Cuba were, at one time, considered social outcasts to be hidden away from public view by the family. Terry is credited with changing this perception — just one more component of his legacy in which all Canadians should feel pride and for which we should give thanks to Terry for this very Cuban legacy.

One might ask why the Terry Fox Run has become such a significant event for Cubans. The best answer I heard was given by a student from FLEX who explained that Terry’s run resonates so deeply with Cubans because it reflects the values and philosophy that Cubans have lived for over five decades.

"Cubans believe that what is right," she explained, "is to do things for the good of everyone and which benefits everybody, not just the individual alone … and that is what Terry did, isn’t it?"

Philip Theriault lives in Halifax and is now organizing the 2012 Volunteer Project. Anyone wishing more information on the Cuban Terry Fox Run can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .