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Canada's Son, My Hero

Posted: 07/01/11 09:07 AM ET

My life changed over a bowl of Cheerios in the fall of 2006. As I rushed to eat breakfast before class at the University of Ottawa, my roommate Rainer tossed a casual question my way.

"I'm going to bike across Canada this summer, you in?"

The words floated out of his mouth like he was asking if I wanted to go see a movie.

I had no idea how to answer. I didn't own a bike. I hadn't cycled since I was in elementary school. The closest I had come to touring was watching Lance Armstrong highlights as I channel-surfed.

Yet, just a few months later, I found myself surrounded by Rainer, Brad and Adrian -- three of my closest friends -- as I dipped the tire of my new road bike into the Atlantic. We were about to cycle across Canada.

That was the first time I thought of Terry Fox on our cross-country trip, and it certainly would not be the last.

Terry Fox is a true Canadian hero. No idiot would argue otherwise. His determination, strength, modesty, selflessness, and honesty are symbols of what is good about our country.

He passed away one month short of his 23rd birthday. That was 30 years ago this week.

At best, our bike trip shared modest similarities to the legendary effort that Terry took on. Like his tour, our effort was made in the name of charity, the Canadian Association for Aids Research. We travelled many of the same roads and highways as he did. We both started in the east, baring harsh winds, and freezing rain.

Yet in no way could we truly compare our experience to that of Canada's favourite son.

While on the bike, I would think of Terry running alongside. A marathon a day. Few supporting him in the beginning. His powerful hop-step. The marker he would place at the side of the highway to ensure he covered every inch promised. As I cycled, Terry's efforts increasingly amazed me.

His inspiration was especially important when I injured my knee in New Brunswick. I had torn the meniscus in my joint and was forced to fly home to Ontario. At that point, I didn't know if I could complete the trip, and I drew great inspiration from Terry's determination and spirit. With that, I was on the road only 10 days later, riding with the boys from Montreal to Ottawa.

Our trip was full of memorable experiences. Yet my most vivid recollection came only half way through our adventure, in Thunder Bay. There, we visited the larger-than-life statue of Terry, which overlooks Lake Superior in a truly breathtaking way.

Sitting there, resting, I fought back tears as I thought about the path that led Terry to that same point so many years before.Looking at his likeness, I couldn't believe that one young man could accomplish so much.

To put things in perspective, our trip was made on lightweight road bikes, affixed with small amounts of camping gear and clothing. We were able to travel quickly, with relative ease, and little pain. Our efficiently-mapped trip covered just over 6,300 kilometres, from sea to sea.

When Terry was forced to stop, he had already run 5,373 kilometres, just 927 short of our mark. His route was designed to touch highly-populated areas that led him off our more direct path. He ran 143 consecutive marathons. One foot in front of the other.

One month after sitting in front of Terry's statue, I dipped my bike tire in the Pacific ocean. Again thinking of my hero.

Yet this would not be the end of my trip. I would soon be back on the road, cycling through New Brunswick and Quebec. I had to cover the distance I missed as my knee mended in Waterloo. To do any less would be unacceptable to the man I so admired.

I successfully completed the trip two weeks later.

After living in Toronto for a period, have returned to Ottawa and regularly pass another statue made in Terry's likeness. This one overlooks Parliament Hill.

Terry once remarked, "I remember promising myself that should I live, I would prove myself deserving of life."

That spirit stays with me each day, and should be in the minds of the thousands of Canadians he will overlook this weekend.

On Canada Day, when we sing of glowing hearts, the strong, and the free -- we must all think of Terry's hop-step down the TransCanada.

Few images could ever represent to those words, and our nation so faithfully.