Legacy and loss at forefront of 42nd Terry Fox Run in London, Ont.

·3 min read
London's Springbank Gardens was filled with runners, walkers and bikers Sunday for the 42nd annual Terry Fox Run. The run was back in person for the first time in nearly three years.  (Michelle Both/CBC - image credit)
London's Springbank Gardens was filled with runners, walkers and bikers Sunday for the 42nd annual Terry Fox Run. The run was back in person for the first time in nearly three years. (Michelle Both/CBC - image credit)

Heidi Kokott may be missing from the crowd at London, Ont.'s Terry Fox Run for the first time in more than 20 years — but her spirit and legacy were there.

A team of friends, family and former colleagues joined the walk to honour her life after the devoted Terry Fox fundraiser died of cancer, the disease she dedicated her life to fighting against, in May.

"I can picture her looking down and being proud," said Kokott's sister Martha Berze. "From about March of every year all we heard Heidi talk about was Terry Fox."

More than 300 people took to the trails by foot, scooter, bike and stroller Sunday morning in London's Springbank Gardens carrying the legacy of Terry Fox in the annual run's 42nd year. Runners, walkers and rollers in London fundraised about $200,000 as of Sunday afternoon, marking one of its most successful years, organizers said.

Michelle Both/CBC
Michelle Both/CBC

A team of eight wearing bright blue 'walking for Heidi' shirts were there to walk on Kokott's behalf and present a financial gift left in her will for the Terry Fox Foundation, Berze said.

Kokott died at 71 after working in a regional cancer program for more than 25 years. She was diagnosed a year ago with a rare type of cancer called leiomyosarcoygma, said Berze.

She's remembered for her love of hats, dressing up as Queen Victoria for events and her "giving heart," Berze said.

Cancer research making a difference

Peter Ferguson was first recruited to join the Terry Fox London organizing team by Kokott. Through his work in cancer research, he's seen the difference it makes.

"The survival rate of pretty well every cancer has really improved over the last 25 to 40 years since Terry," Ferguson said. "Cancer Research has really improved survival of so many different cancers."

Michelle Both/CBC
Michelle Both/CBC

He's excited to celebrate a belated 40th birthday in person this year since Fox began his Marathon of Hope across Canada in 1980. Musicians, Olympians and guest speakers were all part of the morning program in Springbank Gardens.

"We're just so happy we're having a real run again," he said.

Runs took place virtually in 2020 and 2021 — and groups like Team Moe kept at it through the pandemic disruptions.

Michelle Both/CBC
Michelle Both/CBC

Siblings Ray and Mary-Anne Strong participate in the run each year in honour of their sister Maureen, nicknamed Moe, who died of colon cancer in 2007 at the age of 40.

"She was beautiful," Ray said, who came from a family of 10 children. "She was always smiling and unfortunately the cancer took her at a young age."

This year, the group raised more than $24,000 in her honour — totalling more than $260,000 since they started 16 years ago, he said.

'It's quite emotional'

Others attended the London run for their first time in-person this year. Seven-year-old Penelope Bechard attended virtually last year and this year is running with the crowd. She says she's thinking of her uncle Mike today who's starting cancer treatments next week.

Michelle Both/CBC
Michelle Both/CBC

"I want my uncle around for a really really long time," she said.

She came with her mother and three-year-old brother Cyprien.

"It's quite emotional," said Natalie Szudy, recalling family and friends impacted by cancer.

"This is an opportunity for us to also think about them, hold them a little bit closer in our minds and our hearts and hopefully realize a world where other families don't have to experience that loss."

Michelle Both/CBC
Michelle Both/CBC

Four million people in 560 communities will participate in Terry Fox Runs this year, according to the Terry Fox Foundation.

The Terry Fox Run began in 1981 and has raised more than $850 million across Canada for cancer research to date.