Inspired by Terry Fox, volunteers take on ‘enormous’ new challenge

By John Chilibeck
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Daily Gleaner

Terry Fox’s older brother has done just about every kind of run or walk there is over the last 43 years to raise money for cancer research.

On a recent weekend in Regina, Fred Fox ran a half-marathon. In August, the 66-year-old climbed to the summit of Mount Terry Fox, a couple of hours from his home in southern British Columbia.

But paddling out to sea for the cause is new. And that’s what he’ll be doing this coming Saturday in southwestern New Brunswick, kayaking or canoeing out to the nature preserve on Frye Island, near the Town of St. George, to participate in a beach sweep fundraiser with more than a dozen other volunteers.

“We’re going to find out if I have sea legs,” he told Brunswick News over the phone on his way to school in Red Deer, Alberta, one of many speaking engagements he does every year.

“I live on the West Coast, in British Columbia, but I’m a few hundred kilometres from the Pacific Ocean and I don’t get out there very often. I’m more of a river and lake guy than an open ocean guy. We’re going to have to see. I’m willing to try anything.”

Hard work in Fox family DNA

Fox is looking forward to picking up all manner of junk that’s washed up along 22 km of shoreline on the small archipelago.

“Hard work is in the family DNA. You saw what Terry did. He ran a marathon every day.”

His little brother’s story is legendary.

After losing his leg to cancer as a teen, Terry Fox embarked on a solo journey called “the Marathon of Hope” to raise money for cancer research in 1980, running the equivalent of a marathon every day on an unforgiving prosthetic leg, the kind of bulky and uncomfortable apparatus that would never be used today. He began in St. John’s and promised to run all the way to British Columbia.

Fox started the journey in April as an unknown, but by the time he had reached northern Ontario, where he was felled in September of that year by cancer spreading to his lungs, he had inspired millions of Canadians, many of whom had lined his route and donated money to the cause.

Since then, the annual run in his memory has spread to more than 60 countries and raised more than $850 million for cancer research. Most of the annual Terry Fox runs in Canada this year have already taken place, but many in this region were postponed or cancelled due to Hurricane Lee.

His older brother cheered him all the way. And Fred Fox loves that the new event in New Brunswick serves a dual purpose: raising money for cancer and cleaning the rocky and saltwater beaches.

He thinks Terry, an unlikely national hero who died at age 22 in 1981, would have participated if he were still alive today.

“Forty-three years later, our environment and cleaning it up are much more on people’s minds than back then. But I’m sure Terry wouldn’t have minded doing a beach cleanup. Terry was known as a humanitarian, and he wanted to make a difference and help other people. And that wouldn’t fall short of helping the environment as well.”

A nature preserve brimming with trash

The cleanup is the brainchild of Carl Duivenvoorden, a writer, speaker and sustainability consultant from Upper Kingsclear near Fredericton, who met Fred Fox last year at a fundraising breakfast at the New Brunswick Exhibition Centre.

Duivenvoorden participated in the first annual Terry Fox run in 1981 when he was a university student, and has always tried to fit in the yearly event, running in Fredericton, Halifax, Richibucto, Grand Manan, Campbellton, even Copenhagen in Denmark.

But when the pandemic bore down in 2020, the big group events in September were cancelled and organizers asked people to do their own individual runs.

That didn’t sound like much fun to Duivenvoorden. On a trip to Campobello during that difficult summer of “social distancing,” he noticed all the empty plastic bottles littering one of the island’s beaches. He decided he’d ask his sponsors if they’d offer pledges for him to clean up the beach instead of doing a run, and their enthusiastic reaction was all he needed.

Donations went up.

The next year, he and his wife Karen decided to paddle out to Frye Island together to do another beach sweep.

“I went in there not knowing if we’d find a lot of trash. I thought, ‘hmm, I wonder how many kilometres we’ll get covered.’ And by the end of the day, we had only covered half a kilometre. We collected enough trash that would have more than filled a pickup truck, brimming over the top. The amount was astonishing.”

The sponsorship also piled up, surpassing their goal of $5,000.

An enormous challenge

Last year, when Duivenvoorden started to ask people for donations, many asked if they could come help.

So he returned to the island with 10 people. Volunteers brought their own vessels and picked up even more trash.

Carl Duivenvoorden of Upper Kingsclear says he found inspiration from Terry Fox to start an annual beach sweep in the Bay of Fundy. Carl Duivenvoorden of Upper Kingsclear says he found inspiration from Terry Fox to start an annual beach sweep in the Bay of Fundy. Submitted photo

“I didn’t measure all of it, but several big totes of trash were on the fishing boat by the end,” he said. “Most of it is fishing gear: rope, plastic and especially Styrofoam. Those are the things I am most satisfied about being able to pull away from the shoreline because those are just egregious in the ocean. We hear about the issue of ocean plastic. If we can retrieve it before it gets out there and breaks down into microplastics, to me that’s just a big win.”

He said everyone was shocked by the amount of junk piled up on the island, which is a preserve owned by the Nature Trust of New Brunswick.

“But it sure adds to the satisfaction when at the end of the day, you can know that we collected literally a ton of this stuff, and it’s safely out of the water and removed and disposed of properly.”

Once again, Duivenvoorden surpassed his goal, that time $10,000.

This year, they’ll be leaving from the Back Bay Wharf on Saturday at 9 a.m. People who want to sponsor the event or participate can contact Duivenvoorden on his Facebook page. They’ll probably wrap up mid-afternoon. The local aquaculture firm Mowi has offered to pick up all the heaps of trash amassed by the volunteers, free of charge.

Afterwards, they’ll have a celebratory supper at a local pub in St. George.

Duivenvoorden’s goal this time is $15,000.

“Terry Fox was an individual working toward a pretty enormous cause and making his difference in the world. And what a difference he’s made,” Duivenvoorden says. “And the other thing is, Terry Fox said, ‘lead by example.’ Both of those things inspire me. Because ocean plastic is also an enormous challenge. But if each of us does something, we’re going to get there.”