This year marks 40 years since Terry Fox first embarked from St. John’s, Nfld., and began his Marathon of Hope to bring awareness and fundraise for the Canadian Cancer Society.
Heather Hildebrandt (née McKellar) and Kim Bridge, two Grade 5 students at the time, held a fundraiser after hearing that Fox had to stop in Northern Ontario, on Sept. 1.
“I’ve always remembered this as being during his run, but it must’ve been the news about him having to stop his run that put the fire under my butt to do the fundraiser,” said Hildebrandt, now 50 and living in Langley, B.C.
She said she remembers sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast and listening to the news, as her mother would usually turn it on in the morning, and it was just something about his story that motivated her.
There wasn’t much fanfare when Fox started his run, but, by the time he reached Thunder Bay, he was running in front of crowds cheering him on, supporting his every step.
“Maybe it was the emotion that he started out with,” Hildebrandt told the Times.
She reached out to a friend (Bridge) to help, and the two made posters that weekend from various supplies her mother could find for them. The two sat on the back porch, on a cold Saturday in September, cutting, colouring and pasting newspaper clippings about Fox’s journey.
“It was a great cause and something we could get behind,” said Bridge, now 49. “I think, maybe as children, I know I didn’t really have that much of a concept of what he was going through…but I was definitely always willing to participate or be helpful.”
The following week, they got permission to visit every classroom each morning, telling their school-mates about what Fox was doing for the Cancer Society and how important it was to donate whatever they were able.
The girls raised almost $500 in just one week — pretty big numbers for 1980.
“From kids!” Hildebrandt exclaimed. “We fundraised from kids. This wasn’t about the adults, it was about the kids.”
Bridge remembers collecting pennies from the other kids (“Bring your pennies!”). Some teachers and staff pitched in as well, just to bump up the girls’ number to an even $500. But the first $456 came from their peers.
“That was more money than either of us had ever seen ourselves!” said Bridge. “That was like millions to us, right? And just being so impressed that people would be so supportive, in such a short time, it was pretty exciting.”
She added that while she too has a hard time remembering exactly what was going on at the time, she believes it was Fox’s battle and determination that stuck with her.
The two didn’t keep in touch much after high school, as Hildebrandt got married soon after and moved to the coast, while Bridge studied ministry in Alberta before moving back to Clearwater a few years ago. Despite this, they would see each other every decade or so at reunions and the more recent creation of social media has brought them closer together in recent years.
“It’s kinda neat, we definitely have that kind of friendship that even though we weren’t always together, we were able to just pick up as soon as we got back together,” said Hildebrandt.