Doug Alward Should Light the Flame in 2010

The funny thing about Canadians is that we’re not very good at standing in the limelight.  While our neighbours to the South take their star turns for such staggering feats as winning a game show, it is a uniquely Canadian attribute that some of our greater contributors tend to go completely unredeemed.

For that reason I have long been puzzled by, and wanted to meet, Doug Alward.  Who the heck is that, you might say?  Precisely.  We don’t know Doug very well at all, but it is his sacrifice that without a shadow of a doubt furthered athletic endeavour in this country on an unimaginable scale.

Terry Fox in Ontario, 1980
Terry Fox in Ontario, 1980

After all… we do, however, know and revere his good friend Terry Fox.

But here’s the thing not a lot of people know:  Without Doug, Terry could not have made his courageous run.

Last November the Vancouver Sun asked who should light the Olympic Flame at the 2010 Opening Ceremony in Vancouver.  There has been a movement afoot to nominate Betty Fox, Terry’s mother.  I think there’s a good intention here and I *really* like the idea of a nod to Terry Fox, who became even in his short life a beacon of inspiration to the world, and who is not infrequently referred to as one of the Ten Greatest Canadians.  Betty’s a wonderful woman and her connection to Terry is obvious, but she shuns the limelight, and at her tender age and conditioning would not particularly enjoy the opportunity of running a few kilometres into a crowded stadium, mounting some stairs, and lighting a giant flame.  It’s symbolic and well-intended, but probably impractical.

The infamous van, restored in 2007
The infamous van, restored in 2007

In April 1980 there was only one person standing beside Terry Fox in St. John’s, Nfld as he dipped his toe in the Atlantic to begin the Marathon of Hope.

That person was Doug Alward.  An otherwise rational person by all accounts, Doug had been convinced by his best friend’s passion and dedication not only to help him train for the unprecedented task of running the world’s longest continuous highway, but to go with him.  For months Doug waited for his friend in a sweat-soaked, disgusting-smelling van at the side of the road.  As Terry approached Alward would greet him, provide any refreshments or anything he needed, and check on Fox’s health and emotional state.  Then, as Terry ran ahead, he would leapfrog the runner and drive ahead exactly one mile, stopping to repeat the process.

It had to be the most maddeningly slow drive across this country ever attempted.  He did this while their friends were off on their post-graduation trips to Europe, working at lucrative summer jobs, or preparing for University.  For much of the four-and-a-half months of the Marathon of Hope, Doug did this alone.  Still, Alward asked nothing of his friend but that he keep on running and stay healthy.

He asked nothing of us, either.  Except, perhaps, a donation to fight Cancer.

Doug Alward neither sought nor did he receive any of the limelight showered upon Terry during this heroic endeavour, yet he was there every step of the way.  It is a testament to his strength of character that he did not fall victim to the cult of personality that grew around his friend within a few weeks of beginning the run; he evidenced no jealousy of Fox’s growing fame or of the adulation of fans, politicians, and celebrities; he simply focused on his job within the team as coach, trainer, medical technician, cook, agent, manager, head of security, and fixer.

Can you imagine the entourage that would accompany such an endeavour today?  In 1980, for much of that journey it was only Doug.

Doug Alward in 2006
Doug Alward in 2006

Perhaps 2010 is the time for us to honour his selfless contribution, just months short of the 30th anniversary of Doug’s greatest drive.  We should nominate Alward to light the flame.  Clearly it is a way for VANOC to remind the world of our local hero Terry Fox, and the fight to cure cancer that he prodded forward; but it is also a way to shine a light on the thousands of unsung heroes — coaches, trainers, sponsors, skate sharpeners, family, and friends — who truly power our athletes to the peak of their performance, as Terry surely was when he embarked on his run.

On a practical level, Doug Alward is once again a prolific runner, participating of course in the Terry Fox Runs but also in Sun Runs and other events.  He’s an active member of the Phoenix Running Club in Coquitlam.

I think it says something about Doug that I can’t seem to find a picture of him anywhere (finally did)… but perhaps now it’s time for him to enjoy a moment in the sun, for all he did for Terry… and all he did for us.

If you think this is a good idea, I’ve created a Facebook Group to advance the cause.  Join, willya?  And tell your friends.

13 thoughts on “Doug Alward Should Light the Flame in 2010

  1. I had the wonderful experience of accompanying Doug Alward today (Feb. 11) during his entire Olympic Torch carrying experience. I can tell you without question that Doug felt it was the most exciting and emotional days of his life. I know he would be flattered by the kind thoughts expressed here. His experience today was certainly more emotional than he could have dreamed, and the roar of the huge crowd that gathered to see him begin his run could be heard many blocks away. Terry’s older brother Fred said it bestwhen he said, “I’ve never seen Doug with a bigger smile of his face.” After his time with the Torch Doug spent time with countless children (letting them hold it) with parents taking pictures inspiring a new generation. Doug’s 300m like so many can tell you was a priceless unforgettable moment in time. It was all so very right.

  2. Hi there

    Let me just say something to Gillian. WHO CARES WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO STEVE SINCE HIS RUN.
    HAVE YOU EVER RAISED MILLIONS FOR CANCER RESEARCH???? OR HAD ANY PART OF YOUR PERSONAL LIFE INVADED BY THE MEDIA???? YOU’VE NEVER DONE ANYTHING BAD IN YOUR HOLE LIFE TIME??? AND WHAT IF WE PRINTED IT IN EVERY NEWSPAPER ACROSS THE WORLD???
    Think about that Gillian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I do everyday
    thx
    His soon to be wife
    Lisa

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Doug Alward at the Terry Fox Hometown Run yesterday and I could not agree more that he should light the Olympic flame. He was one of the warmest, kindest people I have ever met. He laughed when I told him about this blog post and he said the attention is a little embarrassing, but it would be an unbelievable honour. He thought it should be a cancer survivor and that would be the greatest tribute to Terry.

    Thank you for this very persuasive argument. I just hope it gets to the right person and he is seriously considered for the honour.

  4. I just finished reading a book on Terry Fox which i found so very insightful and makes one truly appreciate and respect what Terry, his brother Darryl, and Doug Alward accomplished that summer in 1980. This story continually motivates and inspires us all in so many ways and gives us one of the greatest examples of the fact that one person can make a difference in this world. All of us wish Terry Fox was still here and could have the honour of lighting the olympic flame himself….but failing that, who better than his best friend and fellow journeyman on the Marathon of Hope, Doug Alward? He captured the essence of the Canadian spirit…hard working, unassuming & unselfish, a loyal friend to a hero running down a dream. What better way to celebrate, commemorate, and honour an unsung hero from that summer nearly 30 years ago…theres was an olympic sized dream and this would be the most fitting and most symboilic gesture to see Doug Alward running westward…coming home.. with the olympic flame held high in his hand and Terry’s spirit in his heart.

  5. What a touching article you’ve written about this other humble and selfless unsung Canadian hero! I’ve often wondered what happened to Mr. Alward myself and was so pleased to have stumbled upon your blog – and what a tremendous idea to finally give this gentleman some of the recognition he so deserves!!

    Thank you, Ian Bell and thank you for helping to keep Terry Fox’s inspirational spirit alive through the kind gesture of nominating Doug Alward to light the Olympic Flame! And to Terry himself, whom I know must be smiling down at people like you, Ian; we will never forget you, Terry. You will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

  6. One of the best ideas to come along in a long time – I have never met Doug but he certainly embodies all that is truly Canadian – He could really be the one to inspire all our athletics if so chosen. We might have the same last name, and I have a brother Doug, but as far as I can tell we are not related, except by wanting the same for our country.
    Go DOUG,
    Joe

  7. JUST DO IT!!!!!!!!! Never mind Olympic Athletes! They had their 15 minutes and more of fame!!!!!!!

    Best nomination , ever!!!!!!!

    Ella Strong.

  8. i know doug from work and will gladly nominate him for the olymic run. he is such a kind and gentle individual with a heart of gold. go for it doug carol chongping

  9. I stumbled upon your blog and I think this is one of the most touching ideas I have heard in a while. You are right Doug embodies the true spirit of Canada. Thanks for putting this out there.

  10. Ian,

    I am a personal friend of Doug Alwards, and his parents. they are my neighbours and have been for the past 13 years. It has been an honor to know the Alward family, and they are like a family to me so to see this article is truly amazing. Doug Alward is a hero to Canada for the accomplishments he has achieved, and doug is a true friend to all of those who know him and in a heart beat would do anything to help anyone. It has been my greatest pleasure having MANY discussions with Doug about practically everything. He has taught me proper training methods for running, he let me read the book “run” and speak witht the author prior to its release. And something I treasure with great value is the photo he gave my family and I for christmas a few years back of him and Terry at the Atlantic Ocean, one of the first photos of the Marathon of Hope. Terry was an inspiration to all, and Doug has continued living Terry’s dream, and I know Terry would be proud of what Doug has done!!

    Kyle

  11. Great article and idea Ian. Terry Fox was a huge inspiration for me as a young Canadian.

    Another twist is Steve Fonyo – the guy who finished the Marathon of Hope. Don’t hear much from him or about him, but whatever he’s gone through, he deserves some conversation anyhow.

    My other choice is 1998 Gold Medalist and local hero Ross Rebagliatti.

    1. Steve Fonyo was last seen in August 2009 in Surrey Provincial Court being sentenced for assault, I believe. Last I heard, he was released, but violated the conditions and was brought back before the judge and sentenced to jail time. He has had numerous convictions, including assault, fraud and drunk driving.

      I don’t think Steve Fonyo is the kind of person Canadians want to feature.

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