Profiles of Hope: Donald Carmichael - what to do to stay engaged and active with the cause for 2020

terryfox 4 final

Terry Fox running his Marathon of Hope along Lakeshore Road in 1980. There is a monument in almost this exact spot, closer to the water, commemorating that run

The Terry Fox Run for Cancer Research, an annual event in Burlington since 1981, won’t take place this year in its usual form. The physical distancing rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t permit large gatherings. And Terry Fox events are very large gatherings

This isn’t just in Burlington, but runs across the country. Volunteers from this outstanding community have worked hard for 39 years to grow the event to the point where it has raised $2.2 million for cancer research.

They were not prepared to just let the event dribble away – it was going to take more than a pandemic to close them down.

After the Foundation announced that the 40th Terry Fox Run would be a virtual event, the Burlington Terry Fox Run Committee decided to take a creative approach to informing the community and telling parts of the unknown story.

Profiles of the people who got the event to where it is today appear on the Terry Fox Lives in Burlington blog and are being republished by the Gazette with permission.

By Burlington Terry Fox Run Committee
July 27th, 2020

Donald Carmichael’s first experience with the Burlington Terry Fox Run was as a participant running in the event. It wasn’t until later that he got involved with the organizing committee because of his close friend Greg Costa. He and Greg ran a couple Terry Fox Runs together before Don was recruited to help. There was actually a year, shortly before the 25th anniversary, where it looked like the run might not happen at all. That is how Don, Greg and a lot of the people who are still on the committee to this day got involved. They basically had to start the committee from scratch. This was around 2003/2004.

Fox 2013 Carmichael with radio person

Don Carmichael setting up registration before the start of the Run before it moved away from the Beachway location

Don was chair from 2011 to 2015. During our interview, we talked about what makes Terry Foxers special and what drives us. There’s something humbling about being part of a grassroots organization – it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work. Don always respected Terry’s mandate to have no big corporate sponsors. But just because you cannot have big sponsors doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. During his tenure as chair the committee was involved in some pretty incredible projects and events, in addition to the September run.

During the five years that Don was chair, the Burlington Terry Fox Run started and ended at Beachway Park. Some of his fondest memories during those years included seeing the sunrise over Lake Ontario during those 5 am setups.

Setting a Guinness Book World Record
Something you need to know about Terry Foxers is that the year or months leading up to an anniversary is an important time for us. It’s when we brainstorm big ideas to celebrate the upcoming milestone. Heck, this blog started because we wanted to share stories from past chairs and important and interesting people in the community for the 40th. The same was true for Don and then chair, Duncan Alexander, leading up to the 30th anniversary in 2010.

Don and Duncan curled together at the Burlington Golf and Country Club. After a match, the two started chatting over beers – typical of the curling crowd, he says. At one point, Don pondered what the world record for the longest continuous curling match was and wondered whether or not that could be something to do to mark the 30th anniversary. He later did some research and found that breaking the record was doable – 52 hours – so they started to plan.

Curling group photo

Fred Fox, Terry’s brother, with Don and the other curlers – March 12-14, 2010

One catch when it comes to planning events outside of the usual September run is that you need to ask the Foundation’s permission to use Terry’s name. Don reached out to them and things got very interesting. The Foundation was fine with it, but had to check with the family first.

Don recalls the moment he got the answer.
“The phone rang…it was a voice I didn’t recognize. He said ‘this is Fred Fox’ and I almost hit the floor.”

Yes, Fred Fox, Terry Fox’s brother called Don at home to talk about the Curl-a-Thon.

“He said ‘I love the idea. I’m a curler and I want to come.’”

Well, that was it. The event not only received permission from the Fox family, but Fred himself was going to be there playing along with them for the two and a half days it would take to reach their goal.

After this, they had three weeks to pull it together. But with Fred’s involvement it was easier to raise money and get more publicity from the local media. They raised $30,000 in three weeks.

When it was all over, they had broken the Guinness Book World Record – a record they would hold for about two years before it was surpassed. Don still has the official framed certificate, and a copy is still hanging on the wall at the curling club.

Afterwards, Fred Fox was invited to stay at Don’s home – as both men needed to rest after days of curling. The Fox family often stays with other Terry Foxers when they travel, so this was a special moment for Don and his family when Fred accepted their hospitality. Don and Fred stretched out in the family room, watching The Briar (because they couldn’t get enough curling) and talking about Terry. Fred told stories about growing up with Terry – painting the picture of a typical brotherly relationship. Terry wasn’t just Canada’s hero, he was a brother and a son. When reflecting on that experience, meeting and talking to Fred Fox, Don said, “It kept me going for another bunch of years.”

Carmiachael at monument

(Left to Right) Rick Craig, Kevin MacKinnon, Marianne Meed-Ward, Greg Costa, Fred Fox, Jack Dennison and Don Carmichael – taken months after the unveiling.

It’s Got to Keep Going
Don stepped down as chair after the 2015 run, but he remains involved. Before that, he spearheaded the idea of putting a monument for Terry somewhere on Lakeshore Road, near the route he took when he ran through Burlington. A second committee was formed, headed by Greg Costa, and included people such as Casey Cosgrove and Cathy Brown to work on that project. The monument was completed and unveiled in May 2016.

Just like many of us, Don doesn’t know what to do to stay engaged and active with the cause for 2020. He had originally planned to do the run in P.E.I., where he has a summer home, and run across the Confederation Bridge. With the run going virtual this year, that plan is scrapped. But he, just like the rest of us, will keep thinking, trying and raising money to make this year special.

Thank you Don for sharing your stories and for your continued support.

Carmichael with Fox photo

Don Carmichael was chair of the Terry Fox Run from 2011 to 2015.




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