During the weekend of March 20, 2010 the biggest hero in Cuba was Terry Fox. Throngs of Cubans turned out in front of the Capitolio building in downtown Havana to await the stroke of 10 AM for their synchronized start with every other province and city in the country.
This included current Cuban champion track stars Olympic hurdler Dayron Robles and World triple jumper Yargelis Savigne who were front and centre and played gracious hosts for Terry Fox’s run on this day.
I could never have imagined that on my first Cuban Terry Fox Run we would join the rest of the country in welcoming Terry’s mother, father and sister to Havana. Terry’s family were given a welcome befitting the true hero that he was, and it was humbling as a Canadian (where we tend to downplay our best efforts) to see the outpouring of affection for this family who lost so much and have continued to give so generously of themselves. They were celebrated in the Cuban media for the week preceding an event that we began to look forward to more and more as it crept closer.
Now that we were only minutes away from the continuation of Terry’s Marathon of Hope we also could not believe the scale of the celebration in Cuba and how warmly the people here have embraced this Canadian boy who won the hearts, not only of his countrymen, but those of many in other countries as well.
With my entire family emblazoned with the Maple Leaf, we were approached time and again by Cubans thanking us for giving them Terry Fox and telling us how much they admired his courage. The word HERO was repeated over and over as my kids talked about their Terry Fox runs at school and their own interest in Terry fed by books, TV and movies.
A Cuban man brought his young family over to us and told us clearly: “Listen closely. My family and I honour Mr. Terry Fox for his courage. We thank you for giving us such a hero of Canada.” You can’t have any more pride in your nation and people than our family felt that day, and to share this with the Fox family was incredible.
After the Cuban family came several groups that wished to have pictures taken and talk to us to explain their reasons for participating. We met the Wings of Life group (Alas por la Vida) marching together with their ribbons as cancer survivors. The Havana chapter of the Terry Fox Club introduced themselves and we took pictures together, followed by a group of Mexican runners in for the event and the local Chinese association out for a run together.
Then suddenly, without warning, the starter signalled us off and we were moving in a dense pack out from the front of the Capital building through the picturesque and historical streets of the city. As we trotted along we passed the beautiful churchlike buildings of the main promenade and dived into the gritty downtown avenues of shops and malls most tourists never see.
As we ran, the locals applauded generously and vigorously encouraged our efforts. Cheers of “TERRY, TERRY, TERRY” echoed back and forth from participants to spectators. The excitement was so palpable you could feel it begin to push you along as the streets narrowed around you and we were engulfed by the hanging laundry and TV antennae that are an integral part of the local cityscape.
With the sea air now blowing behind us we turned onto the Prado, two auto lanes each side of a wide tree lined pedestrian boulevard from the sea back to the Capitolio. It is gorgeous and requires a full afternoon to saunter along, but a lifetime to enjoy properly.
One hundred metres from home base and I hear above my laborious pants, someone crying “Yea Canada, Yea for Canada”. I turned to my right to see who was cheering and my gaze was met by two fellows, one wearing a t-shirt with Terry Fox’s face on it. “Are you from Canada too?” I gasped. The t-shirted man’s friend answered “Why, of course... this is Terry Fox’s father”.
Unbelievable!!!! I stopped in my tracks (glad for the excuse) and shared a quick handshake and greeting with Terry’s dad. My wife appeared out of the crowd just in time to snap a few pictures which we will treasure always. A chance meeting on a summer afternoon in Havana: Me, him, his friend, my kids, my wife, we couldn’t be prouder to be Canadians on this spectacular Cuban day.
You could tell Mr. Fox was as excited and taken aback as everyone else experiencing this for the first time. To have a kid who is a hero in Canada is amazing, to have a kid who is a hero worldwide is unfathomable. To have a kid who is a hero in Cuba, a land of giant monuments and giant men behind those monuments is a testament to the human appeal of Terry Fox and his struggle. Everyone understands the courage that this man had and admires him for his achievements. He is a great Canadian and naturally, came from a great Canadian family.
One hour after the last few participants had struggled in we stood across from the Capitolio, waiting in line to say “Hi” to one last special person on this incredible day. She stood chatting with the people (her people) who lined up to say a few quick words and have her sign their t-shirts, books or photos of her son. Terry Fox’s mother, standing in front of the Salon Kid Chocolate that was draped in Canadian flags, Cuban flags, Terry Fox flags and banners, as well as a 20 foot poster of a marathoner breaking the line.
She smiled and chatted softly and when our turn came to say hello and to thank her for coming to Havana for the event she didn’t hurry. She asked the kids where they were from and then joked with them that they came to Cuba to escape Saskatchewan snow banks and thanked us for participating. I may not come back to Cuba solely as a tourist, but we have promised that we are coming back to run in the Terry Fox Maraton de la Esperanza again as a family and as proud Canadians.
You don’t get many feelings like this in your life.... I would encourage everyone to make your trip to Cuba during March to include this date. As a Canadian or as a fellow human being you won’t have a better day then this one.
A few minutes afterwards, an American couple approached us to ask about the event and the story of Terry Fox. We explained as much as we could and pointed out Terry’s mom and dad and talked about their trip to the run in Cuba. Their last question was “Where is Terry? Is he here today?” Maybe we didn’t have time to explain everything to this young American couple, but I think the best answer to their final question was “Yes, Terry was here today... he was present in Havana.”
The 2010 Terry Fox Marathon of Hope took place in 5,500 locations all over Cuba with an estimated total of two million runners. This year the run had a special meaning with the presence of Terry’s relatives in Cuba. His parents, Rolly and Betty-Lou Fox, and his sister Judith Fox-Alder thanked the Cuban authorities and people, and were moved by how much Terry’s dream of fighting for life is embedded among Cubans.
Prior to the run, the Canadian Embassy held the traditional art auction, with works donated by Cuban artists. The auction garnered 33,000 convertible pesos that will be used for cancer research in the Caribbean island.