Students from Robert Rundle Elementary School in St. Albert participate in the school’s annual Terry Fox walk.
Kicking through the autumn leaves, I listened to the excited chatter of the students as we headed over to the nearby park. They were pumped. The pep rally in the gym had really gotten them excited. For the fourth year in a row, we were on our way to join up with another school for the annual Terry Fox run.
Approximately 1,000 students from Vincent Massey and St. Gregory schools in Calgary pose for a group photo prior to participating in the Terry Fox run several years ago. Each year the schools combine for the event and the students choose a word to form that serves as the inspirational theme for the day.
I, on the other hand, was filled with mixed emotions. In the gym that morning, I was not the only teacher who had felt the sting of tears while we watched the PowerPoint presentation of images of our students mingled with pictures of Terry on his Marathon of Hope. Their smiling faces contrasted sharply with his grim determination, yet that was not the only reason I had felt moved. One of the snapshots was of a student who, though smiling with his friends in the photo, was now fighting cancer himself. His private, exhausting battle was not mentioned, but seeing his smile again, I felt his parents’ anguish, knowing that at the time, none of them had any idea what lay ahead.
Still another photo made a cry catch in my throat — the image of another boy, who the year before, had shaved his head to support the cause. His enormous grin also could not foretell the sad phone call we would receive at the end of the summer, informing us that his life had been cut tragically short in a car accident while away on holidays.
Again, I felt the anguish of his mother, who survived the crash, only to have to bury her child.
In fact, as I neared the park, I was thinking about his memorial service the following day. I wondered how many of these students would be there, trading their school colours for more sombre ones, setting aside their youthful joy to pay their respects to their classmate.
As I turned onto the grass, I saw the students from the other school forming the red outline of our human word sculpture on the hill. Streaming into the park from this end, our students waited patiently to fill in the giant letters with their grey-shirted bodies. Slowly, the word began to take shape. Looking on, I again felt the emotions rising inside, a mixture of pride and excitement, of gratitude and regret.
A few more adjustments, and then the official photos were taken. Then, quietly at first, and ever louder, the notes of “O Canada” and the sound of 1,000 voices singing out, voices singing for their country, singing for our hero, and for all the ordinary heroes of our everyday lives, for kids like Chaitanya and Brendan, who likewise have earned a permanent place in our hearts.
Then, at the sound of the horn, like the word they embodied, they were invited to RISE and run — run for Terry, run for their country and, quite literally, for their young lives.
Linda Hatfield is a retired language arts and social studies teacher who taught at Vincent Massey Junior High School in Calgary.
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More than 900 Terry Fox runs are held every September in Canada. Information about the runs and Terry Fox is available at www.terryfox.org.
Teachers from Livingstone Range ATA Local No. 14 enjoy a fun moment after participating in the Terry Fox run in Claresholm on Sept. 17. Pictured are (L-R) Marie Vanderlinden, Tracey Symonds, Jenny McKee, Lynda McGrattan and Kendra Selk. The group raised close to $8,000.