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Meeting a life-saver: Longtime Island coach recalls growing up with Terry Fox

Comox Valley cancer survivor Larry Street says Fox’s efforts might have indirectly saved his life
Comox Valley basketball coach Larry Street. Photo by Ali Roddam

It was in April of 1980 when Terry Fox dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Nfld. and embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. By the time he reached Thunder Bay, Ont., he had to cut the run short because cancer had spread to his lungs. He died the following year at age 22.

Before Terry undertook his Marathon of Hope, longtime Comox Valley basketball coach Larry Street had met the young man from Port Coquitlam, not long after he graduated high school in 1977. Street was a senior on the basketball team at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, while Terry was an aspiring player hoping to crack the lineup for the coming season.

But then he lost his right leg due to cancer.

Street remembers Terry as a shy young man, but also as a feisty, hard-working player during pickup games in the spring of ’77.

“Everybody liked him because he worked so hard,” said Street, who was in his fourth year with the Clansmen. “His plan was to come up and play in the fall, but then it happened. So he never really got to play (at SFU).”

That year was a loss for Terry while Street completed his teacher training and graduated in the spring of ’78. But he remembers Terry wheeling his wheelchair up the road to reach SFU at the top of Burnaby Mountain.

“That was part of his training. He got into wheelchair basketball, and then not long after that, he got into running, and training for his plan (to run across Canada). A lot of his training was at SFU.”

Street said Jay Triano, a former Canadian men’s team captain and longtime assistant coach in the NBA, was a fellow freshman of Terry’s who had started varsity basketball in 1977.

“He witnessed Terry training in his wheelchair, in the weight room, running (on the track). It inspired Jay to work hard. He said he felt guilty taking a bus up the hill watching this guy going up in a wheelchair. That was a steep hill.”

The Fox family home was near Terry’s high school in Port Coquitlam, which now bears his name. His gravesite sits on a hill above. Street met Terry’s mother Betty (a flag bearer at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) at a couple of Terry Fox days at different schools, recalling she once visited Vanier Secondary in Courtenay.

He notes many international students attend Comox Valley schools. When Street asks if anyone has heard of Terry Fox, invariably there are a couple who have.

“For someone who was so shy, and he didn’t say much, he became an icon in Canadian history, right up there with our top Canadians,” Street said. “You think of Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky. Terry Fox is right up there with those guys.

“What he did might’ve saved my life,” added Street, who contracted testicular cancer at age 33 — 10 years after Terry contracted the disease. “All that money that he raised, and Canadians raised, was starting to pay off with the Cancer Society. Even I was an experiment. They changed the drugs. The doctors kept me alive to where I am today. I could have died at 33.” Street had a cousin — the same age with the same cancer — who died that year.

“It just goes to show that, with all the research and everything you do medically, luck becomes a big part of it, too. Terry had bad luck. I had good luck. We all have friends who died of cancer who I think had bad luck, and we know people that have survived cancer. Luck’s a big part of it.”

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