Terry Fox Run sets stage for reunion 40 years in the making

·5 min read

Heidi Sobol hadn’t seen her Grade 4 teacher, Joan King, in decades – until she came out to Sunday's Terry Fox Run to support her favourite elementary school teacher and raise money for cancer research.

King has been organizing the run in Niagara-on-the-Lake since 2007 and this year's event set the stage for a meeting between King and her long-ago student.

King was busy speaking with participants at Simcoe Park when a cry of, “Joan King, it’s Heidi. Heidi Sobol from the fourth grade,” rang out.

Sobol and King, who taught her at Cardinal Newman Catholic Elementary School in Niagara Falls, shared an embrace. The student and teacher hadn't seen each other since the 1980s.

Sobol said participating in the run in NOTL was as much about Terry Fox as it was about supporting King, whom she regards very fondly.

“She was the best. Yesterday I went through my diaries and there was a passage that went, ‘February 7, 1984. Gym today, Miss King was my teacher, yay!’”

King had equally fond memories and talked about a time she met a gentleman who used to teach at the same school.

“He said his name was Sobol. I said, ‘Oh boy, I know a Heidi Sobol.’ He said that’s his daughter,” King said.

King told Sobol’s father she still has a painting that Sobol gave her all those years ago and sharing that with Sobol over Facebook brought the two together again.

“Heidi sent the most beautiful message to me. It really touched my heart,” King said.

Sobol is a member of Team Tennissee, one of the top 100 fundraising Terry Fox Run teams in Canada this year. The team exceeded its $5,000 goal by raising $5,451, according to the national run's website.

It was her first year participating in the run, a theme that cropped up throughout the day. She got involved when her sister told her they were trying to raise $5,000 for cancer research.

“I’m like, 'I want in.' We all do sports so why not do something like this all together,” Sobol said.

Sobol knows many people whose lives have been directly affected by cancer and it becomes clear just how pervasive cancer is when her team does their pre-run ritual.

“Before each time we run we make a circle and we say who we’re running for,” she said.

“It’s touching to hear how many people can’t come up with just one name. We have to name lots of people really close to us: parents, grandparents and siblings. So, it’s really a cause everyone can relate to.”

“So you think of these people when you’re running. Especially Terry (Fox).”

Sobol stressed that running isn’t the only way people can get involved with the Terry Fox Run.

“If you can’t run you can put in a donation,” she said.

“Let’s build the momentum, let’s see this happen more and more every year so everyone participates.”

Sobol was far from the only one to get involved in the run for the first time despite the threat of COVID-19.

Craig McCallum, creative director for the Wind Group Inc., was at the run with 15 of his staff members, all Terry Fox Run rookies.

“These are all volunteers, nobody had to come,” he said of the staff members.

“I was expecting me and my wife but everybody’s here and their dogs. We’re just waiting for the kitchen sink,” McCallum joked.

He said his company's involvement in the run was about living up to its corporate values.

“We want to be able to say, ‘We’ll be there, too,’ not just put values up on the wall, but demonstrate them,” he said.

His team usually takes part in the Rankin Cancer Run in St. Catharines. But, as many said on Sunday morning, they were participating in the NOTL run because of their relationship with King.

McCallum hopes it becomes an annual tradition for the company.

Members of the Wind staff of all ages were there, with some children hoisted onto their parents' shoulders to take part. Involving youth is important, King said.

“You’ve got to honour these people because here they are doing (the Terry Fox Run) with their children,” King said.

“And that’s where you want it to start, with the kids.”

One person who understood that was comedian David Green, who was there with his one-year-old daughter Charlotte.

He has participated in the run for 13 years, since he first moved to Niagara.

Green is known for the fundraisers he hosts with fellow comedian Joe Pillitteri and last week, the duo raised $35,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation at an event.

Green says fundraising for the run is the perfect gig for him.

“It combines my two greatest passions: a love for comedy and a love for Terry Fox,” Green said in an interview.

He said he is motivated by the example Fox set.

“He inspires people and brings everybody together. I want to be a part of that and to keep continuing it as well,” he said.

In the bandshell at Simcoe Park, King set up a display with photos from previous runs.

There was also a quilt, created by Lee Bishop, that was made up of T-shirts from past runs, and a huge poster of Fox, which became the centrepiece for many a photo-op.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero also was on hand and brought a companion: her mom's dog Bella.

Disero was emotional talking about a very specific segment of the population suffering from cancer.

“It’s all about, for me, children’s cancer. Cancer’s a really awful way to pass and the more we can do for research to stop cancer the better,” Disero said in an interview.

“I feel for families that have to go through it with children that are so young.”

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake recently raised a flag to boost awareness for children’s cancer. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

“We will someday find a cure for cancer,” Disero said.

Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report

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