Remembering Terry Fox

Terry Fox was a distance runner and basketball  player for his high school and at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He developed bone cancer in his right leg, which was amputated in 1977.

On April 12, 1980,  Terry Fox dipped his artificial limb (“it was a cobbling of leather and aluminum, like suspenders,” wrote the Toronto Star) into the harbor at St. John’s, Newfoundland, on the eastern tip of Canada.

Then he turned west and started running.

St. John’s was the starting point in his attempt to run across Canada in the “Marathon of Hope,” an effort to raise cancer awareness, and to raise one dollar for each of Canada’s 24 million people.

Terry Fox during the Marathon of Hope

At the beginning, his attempt was largely unknown, though sponsors had provided a camper van, fuel, and running shoes. In the first few days, he was met met with gale force winds, heavy rain and a snowstorm. He was also met with a donation of over $10,000 from the 10,000 residents of Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.

It took him two months to cross the Maritime provinces (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick). In Quebec, drivers continually forced him off the road.

He was running a marathon a day. On one leg and a stump. And, because the spring on his artificial leg took a while to reset, he resorted to a hop-step on his own leg. Let me repeat: he ran a marathon a day.

By the time he reached Ontario he was becoming a celebrity. According to Wikipedia, “Fox crossed into Ontario at the town of Hawkesbury on the last Saturday in June. He was met by a brass band and thousands of residents who lined the streets to cheer him on, while the Ontario Provincial Police gave him an escort throughout the province.”

Ontario was a media circus, and he was the guest of honor everywhere he went. He met the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and hockey players like Darryl Sittler (the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs), and Bobby Orr.

Except for a brief pause in Montreal at the request of the Canadian Cancer Society, Fox kept running. He ran through the heat of August. He ran despite shin splints and an inflamed knee, despite developing cysts on his stump and suffering dizzy spells.

On September 1, outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, he was forced to stop briefly after suffering an intense coughing fit and experiencing pains in his chest. Unsure of what else to do, he resumed running as the crowds along the highway shouted their encouragement.  A few miles later, experiencing a shortness of breath and still suffering the pain in his chest, he asked to be driven to the hospital.

The next day he held a tearful press conference announcing that his cancer had returned and spread to his lungs.

He was forced to end his run after 143 days and 5,280 kilometres. He had raised $1.7 million.

A week after his run ended, a national television network ran a five-hour telethon that raised $10 million. Two provincial governments each donated $1 million. Donations continued through the winter, and by the following spring, over $23 million had been raised in Terry Fox’s name.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981.

The Government of Canada ordered flags across the country lowered to half mast, an unprecedented honour that was usually reserved for statesmen. Addressing the House of Commons, [Pierre] Trudeau stated that “It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death….We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”

That fall was the first Terry Fox Run. Almost thirty years later, the Terry Fox Run is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research, and the Terry Fox Foundation has raised close to $500 million in his name for cancer research.

When I think of heroes, I look no farther than the man running at the side of the road, alone, in the twilight. Chasing a seemingly impossible dream. I think of Terry Fox.

O Canada, We Hold Our Pee for Thee

A few days after the Canadian men’s hockey team won the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympic games, the city of Edmonton’s water utility published an incredible graph of water consumption. Since up to 80% of Canadians were watching the game, it stands to reason they would wait for a break in the action to use the bathroom.

Also, it being a gold medal game, there were no commercial. So how did that look? It looked like this:

Then the Globe and Mail took notice, and found out that “Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator reported a 300 megawatt increase in power use just before the game started as people fired up their TVs.”

That caused the City of Toronto to take a look at its own water usage during the game:

(The Torontoist blog has a post with a full-size graphic.)

They look about the same, don’t they? Seems like Canada is full of people with patriotic bladders. Which goes to show what a relief Sidney Crosby’s goal was, in more ways than one.

The Power of the Pants

In a post-Olympic praise-and-blame column for Yahoo sports, Dan Wetzel mostly got it right, calling curling a winner:

What other sport could offer this sentence: The Danish women’s skip, who is a part-time topless model, broke into tears because the Canadian crowd was too rowdy.

This isn’t your father’s curling anymore. The sport received wall-to-wall television coverage in Canada, the United States and China, the latter a rising power. Long mocked as shuffleboard on ice, curling suddenly was cool. It’s the unlikely breakout sport of the Olympics.

He also gave rightful props to Petra Majdic, the Slovenian cross-country skier who crashed during a training run, falling off an embankment and into a small creek. Despite being injured, she went on to compete and win a bronze medal–despite having four broken limbs, and a collapsed lung.

However, Wetzel said fashion was a loser:

The Norwegian men curled in checkered pants. The American snowboarders had baggy jeans — where is General Larry Platt when you need him? In men’s figure skating there was a skeleton costume, a sailor and a farmer. Johnny Weir ported “male cleavage.” The hot items on the street were silly red mittens with a white maple leaf on the palm. Somehow they tricked Wayne Gretzky into wearing them.

True enough I suppose, but Wetzel overlooks the fact that the Norwegians and their pants won silver medals in men’s curling. Of course, FPI was onto this story from the get-go, noting the intangible advantage such pantwear gave them, not to mention the Facebook fan page.

The trousers that swept all the way to the finals

True, they lost in the finals, but they lost to Kevin Martin’s Canadian team, the favorites (Martin: four-time Brier champion,  three Olympic games, former World Champion and has won eleven Grand Slam titles on the World Curling Tour).

Then other news comes out of Canada, that the silk necktie worn by coach Mike Babcock when the Canadian men’s hockey team defeated the U.S. in overtime is now sold out.

Mike Babcock, sporting his 'lucky' McGill tie. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Despite playing on home ice, the Canadians squeaked by Slovakia and the U.S. to win … clearly, his sartorial lucky charm was effective. (And yes, Virginia, it too has its own Facebook fan page. But with only 1,500 fans.)

So, I dunno. Maybe Wetzel’s right that Johnny Weir shouldn’t have sported pink fringe or cleavage…. but in my mind, there’s no denying the power of the McGill tie–or the Norwegian pants.

The Winter Olympics: A Border Skirmish

So Salon.com ran this column about the Winter Olympics by some random columnist/douche/shit-disturber the other day. A typical bit:

We go to Men’s 500 Meter Speed Skating, only we don’t, because the ice is all slushy. Why? Because the Zamboni machines used to groom the ice are either broken, or ineffectual. There is an hour delay, and Costas, now speaking from beneath a pompadour that appears varnished in shoe polish, declares the situation “strange, and not acceptable.”

Note to Canada: that was you getting fired.

Because, I mean, look at it: what’s the one thing you should know how to do at this point, in terms of athletic preparedness? We’re not asking you to produce a gripping television series, or a memorable historical figure. Just keep the ice smooth, Canada. That’s all you had to do. And you had, like, eight years to plan for this.

Here’s your box. Security will see you out.

Then, to its credit, Salon gave roughly equal real estate to the letters from Canadians that came in response.

“You suggest — without irony, as an American, in 2010 — that we, a nation with a population one tenth the size of yours, should have spent another $360 million on an opening ceremony because, I guess, it wasn’t good enough for you. Call us crazy (or boring), I know, but here we save up for our retirement, not our heart attacks.

We put the proudest, butchiest lesbian ever on an international stage to sing the living shit out of a song widely considered to be among the best ever written. Ever. We’re understandably proud of that. (Also, that lesbian? Totally allowed to get married here in our hopelessly-decade-behind-the-times little backwater. When, oh, when will we ever catch up to rest of the world?)

We put on an original experience designed to showcase our talents, history and contributions. It wasn’t a homogenized, sanitized Hollywood production, and I’m glad because that’s not who we are. You didn’t have to love it but it’s really amazing that you couldn’t even try to appreciate it and throw out a few kind words to your neighbour. Criticism is one thing. This was just flat-out arrogant, ignorant bitchiness.”

– Sweet Jane


“A legislature matters more than the luge”

I grew up in Canada, and lately I’m wondering what the hell is happening to make it go so horribly off the rails. Let’s backtrack about a year, to when Slate.com ran a piece called “What’s the Matter with Canada? How the world’s nicest country turned mean.

On December 30th, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued the government (it means discontinuing the session of parliament without dissolving it) for the second time in about a year. He did it the first time to avoid having his party’s minority leadership in parliament challenged by a vote of no confidence. (For those of you who somehow missed Canadian civics, if a vote of no confidence carries, the next step is a general election.)

When he did it a second time, it prompted Errol P. Mendes, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, to write a piece that ran in the Toronto Star, which is really worth reading.

“The early decision to shut down Parliament was clearly to avoid the continuing scrutiny of a House of Commons committee over the mounting evidence of wilful blindness by the Harper government over the transfer of Afghan detainees to a substantial risk of torture. This is potentially a war crime and one of the most serious allegations any government has faced in the history of Canada.”

Mendes also outlines some of the other “unconstitutional behaviour” the Harper administration has been up to. What’s eerie is how much of it is reminiscent of the Bush administration. But even Bush/Cheney didn’t have the balls to shut down the government twice, just to get themselves out of hot water.

Enter The Economist, with its Olympian tone and unbylined stories. Now, The Economist is nobody’s ideal of a bleeding heart liberal magazine (even though they quaintly call themselves a newspaper), and they often profess their admiration for free markets.

However.

This is one of the colonies, and they are, you know, The Economist, and they see through your shady maneuvers, Mr. Harper.

His officials faced grilling by parliamentary committees over whether they misled the House of Commons in denying knowledge that detainees handed over to the local authorities by Canadian troops in Afghanistan were being tortured. The government would also have come under fire for its lack of policies to curb Canada’s abundant carbon emissions. Prorogation means that such committees—which carry out the essential democratic task of scrutinising government—will have to be formed anew in March.

(That means no governmental oversight until MARCH — after the Winter Olympics take place in Whistler, British Columbia, next month.)

Their rejoinder is in the form of a sub-headline. And I quote: “A legislature matters more than the luge.”

Amen.

The Dickipedia Prize for Literature

If you’ve ever been to Dickipedia, a Wiki of Dicks, you’ll see a list of dicks in business, media, sports, and entertainment (hint: people do not make it here by virtue of being named Richard). I expect there may be one for literature quite soon. On the BBC World Service today there was an exchange between English biographer Victoria Glendinning, and Noah Richler, who has compiled a literary atlas of Canada.

Why? Well, two weeks ago, Glendinning wrote an unbelievably condescending piece in the Financial Times about her experience serving as a judge for the Giller Prize, which is like the Man Booker prize for Canadian novels.

Reading almost 100 works of Canadian fiction, as one of the judges for this year’s Giller, is a life-enhancing experience, and gives a glimpse into the culture. The Canadian for “gutter” is “eavestrough”, which is picturesque . Everyone is wearing a “tuque”, or “toque”, which in English-English suggests the lofty headgear worn by Queen Mary but is actually a little woolly hat. And in the holiday cottages among Ontario’s northern lakes and forests – evidently, the prime setting for emotional turmoil – they sit, brooding, on Muskoka chairs. (Look those up on the net.)

there is a striking homogeneity in the muddy middle range of novels, often about families down the generations with multiple points of view and flashbacks to Granny’s youth in the Ukraine or wherever.

Apart from brilliant Giller contestants, there are … “unbelievably dreadful” ones. It seems in Canada that you only have to write a novel to get grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and from your provincial Arts Council, who are also thanked…. If you want to get your novel published, be Canadian.

Not surprisingly, Richler (a Canadian) took umbrage at Glendinning’s sniffy dismissal of quaint Canadiansms, then got out of his Muskoka chair to fire a salvo back across the pond:

The bulk of English novels, even the good ones (Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes come to mind), are written by authors parcelling out their ideas frugally, a couple for the book at hand and others reserved for the next. This is the same sad way the English make fish pie: one piece of cod mixed in with many, many potatoes.

You want fireworks? You want literature that is invested with energy because every page is written as if it was the writer’s last chance? Well, don’t turn to English novels but to the political and cultural margins of a collapsed empire that started becoming parochial more than half a century ago – and is today to the point that the word “tuque” provides Ms. Glendinning such supercilious amusement. Canadian writers, along with Indian and Australian and Irish and African and Asian ones, have been writing the most exciting and original novels in, umm – oh, whatever kind of English it is, give the woman a lexicon – for decades. In these literatures, you will find a fervour and a generosity of spirit that is sorely lacking in the English, the dearth of which explains why most do not get North Americans even when they like us.

I have to side with Richler on this one.

There’s a nice bit in Bill Bryson’s book “The Mother Tongue” (about the English language) where he describes how 300 years ago, the English repeatedly bemoaned the American’s barbarian handling of the language … and how typically the words they took umbrage to were proper English terms that had merely fallen out of use, only to be revived in the States. Nonetheless, the English had self-appointed themselves as arbiters of the language, no matter what the colonies had to say.

Fast-forward to 2009, and what do you get? Victoria Glendinning defending the empire, haughtily trying to claim supremacy for “English-English.”

The BBC World Service had both of them on today, together, and it was great fun to hear a very prim English toff get shredded by a civil pit bull from the colonies (Alas, it’s not available on the BBC site.) She lasted maybe two minutes trying to explain and clarify (“But we envy you for getting grants!” etc.), then started backpedaling, and even called him “love.”

Speaking of self-appointing, I hereby nominate Glendinning for the Dickipedia short-list.

What’s in a Name? The Canadian Election Version

Treehugger ran this photo, of a billboard in Montreal. The Conservative party in Canada is holding elections on Oct. 14 (holding them before the U.S., because if they held them after they’d lose badly —as the U.S., finally, is moving from the right back to the center). Thus, Canadian election signs. This one compares fascist Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called the Kyoto accord “a socialist scheme,” with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.

Don’t vote Conservative!! Why not? Slate (an American publication, fer chrissakes!) wrapped it up pretty nicely in a story titled “What’s the Matter with Canada? How the World’s Nicest Country Turned Mean.”

Here’s a snippet:

In June, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that Canada—for years the only G8 country to post regular budget surpluses—was likely to fall into deficit this year, thanks to a reckless cut to the national sales tax. In February, the government proposed denying funding to films and TV shows whose content it deemed “not in the public interest,” sparking cries of censorship from a sector that has historically received public support. In 2007, a member of the governing Conservative Party proposed a bill that would reopen the debate over abortion, a topic that governments both liberal and conservative have avoided for decades.

But nowhere is the rift between the old and new Canada more apparent than with regards to the environment. [They went from supporting Kyoto to “trying to block an agreement that set a target for future cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions.”]

Long story short, the Liberal party imploded and the Conservatives ran roughshod for a few years. Voting in October? Vote NDP. Vote Liberal. But unless you Canadians want your country to be as screwed up as your neighbors to the south, don’t vote Conservative.

I’m John Ochwat, and I approve this message. I just don’t approve of Stephen Harper.