Imagine running a marathon. Now imagine doing that every day for 143 straight days. With an artificial leg. In the spring of 1980, Terry Fox embarked on his ambitious Marathon of Hope, running across his native Canada to raise awareness and money to fight cancer, the disease that led to the amputation of his right leg. The cancer resurfaced late in the summer and Fox lost his battle a year later at age 22, but not before he became a national folk hero. "Within our borders, he is our greatest Canadian," says NBA star Steve Nash, who makes his directorial debut (alongside his cousin Ezra Holland) with Into the Wind, a rousing and emotional profile of Fox for Tuesday's installment of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series.
"I remember waking up every day that summer turning on the TV to see where Terry was," says Nash, who was an impressionable six-year-old living on Vancouver Island at the time. "It was a special moment of time. Looking back on it it's more and more incredible that it actually happened, that it got news and notoriety and it galvanized a nation. And it still exists: They've raised half a billion dollars, people still run in Terry Fox Runs, they still talk about Terry Fox in school here. It's just one of those quintessential Canadian stories that I think Americans will really enjoy."
The film mixes archival footage and recent interviews with Fox's family and friends, some of which present an unvarnished look at Fox, who had some (understandable) moments of irritability during the Marathon of Hope. "The biggest challenge was just trying to stay true to Terry," Nash says. "He was the understated superhero, we didn't want to depart from his essence and build him up too big. He was a pretty normal guy and we wanted to allow people to see that."
Fox won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's top athlete in 1980, an honor that has gone to household names like hockey stars Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, figure skater Kurt Browning and Nash, who took the trophy in 2005, the year he won his first NBA MVP award. "Terry was an athlete, that's what he was," says Nash, who is about to begin his seventh straight season as the Phoenix Suns' point guard. "It was well deserved, in a purely athletic sense — not just as a novelty — for what he accomplished and the physical and mental pressure he faced. Any time you get a chance to be put in the same category as a hero of yours, it's pretty incredible."
Into the Wind airs Tuesday at 8/7c on ESPN.