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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Great NOTL Summer Walkabout: Breaking a sweat for a cure


Welcome to the final episode of the Great NOTL Summer Walkabout, a summer-long series of stories that has taken readers to all corners of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our reporters trekked around the community to meet residents and visitors, attend events, visit area landmarks and tell stories about what they found. 


Fourteen-year-old Liam Ainslie was the first to cross the finish line on foot Sunday morning at the Terry Fox Run, and though the event wasn’t competitive or timed, he finished the five-kilometre route in about 20 minutes.

Ainslie, who lives in Buffalo but said his mother has dual citizenship, said he pushed hard to make it to the end of the route first. The Canadian fundraiser brought him to Niagara-on-the-Lake to test his limits.

“I can’t believe I ran it that fast,” he said while waiting for his father to finish a second lap.

“He just flew, I don’t think he even touched the ground,” said one participant in passing.

On Sunday morning about 250 people walked, ran and rode to support cancer fighters and survivors and to remember those who lost their own battles, while raising money for the Terry Fox Foundation. 

The run has been happening annually across Canada since 1981 and began in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1991. NOTL’s run picked up momentum in 2007 when Joan King took over organizing the event, and Sunday’s show of support from the community was a testament to what she’s been able to accomplish with the help of the number of volunteers and sponsors.

“It was great to see such a mix of people out on Sunday. There were young kids and community groups and teams all supporting the cause,” King said.

She said it was each participant, team, and group of volunteers that made the event authentic and true to Terry Fox’s vision: Crossroads Public School’s ME2We club cheered people on near the finish line; Team Pillsy was out in full force with family and friends; June’s Dream Team walked together to remember Donna Seymour’s close friend June Huyck, who died of ovarian cancer; students from Vineridge Academy joined in on the Canadian fundraiser after being inspired by his story; and so many more groups and individuals took to the street to honour and support the cause. 

The group of eager participants gathered at the starting line on King Street, and after a few words from King and Lord Mayor Betty Disero, and Juliet Dunn’s rendition of O Canada, they were off just after 10 a.m. Volunteers donning bright vests succeeded in holding off traffic until the crowd made their way through the start of the route.

Terry Fox’s vision was to inspire a country to step up and raise money for cancer research, and though he didn’t finish his run, his dream has been inspiring Canadians ever since.

And it’s not just born and raised Canadians who have been touched by his story – about 65 international students from Vineridge Academy were out Sunday morning for the annual run.

Alex Odumosu, from Nigeria, said she is inspired by the way the community comes together to raise money and support a good cause. Events like the Terry Fox Run just don’t happen back home, she said.

“To experience how society gets together over someone who gives a lot of hope,” Odumosu said she finds the entire experience inspiring and that she has been happy to take part since she has been attending Vineridge.

Collectively, the academy raised $1,120. Each year when classes start in September new students are introduced to Terry Fox’s vision and shown a video documenting his story. Jade Winterbottom, student and community engagement co-ordinator said she is often blown away by the quick response from the kids wanting to take part.

“Their teachers will show them the video and then they’ll come down to the office and sign up right away,” Winterbottom said.

She said participation numbers have grown since the academy started taking part, and she expects it to continue to do so over the next few years. Students of Vineridge Academy have been participating in the NOTL run since the school’s inception in 2016.

Each person who came down to the corner of King and Queen streets Sunday morning has their own reason, inspiration or personal story that compels them to take part each year. 

Kevin Smith from NOTL said he has been coming out for the run for 20 years. His wife, Darlene Smith, was a crossing guard for St. Davids Public School and encouraged the family to join in 1999, he said. She took part for one year before she died of anaphylactic asthma attack in 2000, but the family has been taking part every year since.

“My dad had passed away from cancer, and we all know about Terry Fox … It had just sort of become my thing,” Smith said, adding that he donates $100 each year he takes part. “This would be my 21st year.”

This Sunday he was joined by about eight family members, including Karen Breivik and Alexis and Avery Smith.

A group of women from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Tennis Club participated for the second year, raising $1,500 among them. Each woman walked for someone in their own lives who has been touched by cancer in some way.

King said about $50,000 was raised by the end of the day Sunday, but donations were still coming in online.

The run saw a mix of ages taking part, and whether they ran, walked, or rode bikes along the five-kilometre route, they all reflected the inspiration of one of Canada’s most noted heroes.

Ten-year-old Aine O’Neill, Danielle Smith and Peyton Leigh, both 11, crossed the finish line with big smiles.

The Rotary Club 4742 of Lewiston, N.Y., and Niagara-on-the-Lake held a barbecue after the run.  

Past-president and current secretary Thomas Gerbasi donned a hot dog hat while he helped serve the hungry participants. The Rotarians, whose club bridges the gap between Canada and the U.S., made jokes about the “weiner with the hat” while cooking for the crowd.

But they take their fundraising seriously, said member John Shaver, which is why all proceeds from the barbecue on Sunday went to the Terry Fox Foundation.

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