Running strong: amputee shares inspiration from Terry Fox



Kate Aley

Photo courtesy of the McIntyre Family

Tom McIntyre was not an athlete before he lost his leg. But the former trucker and present-day farmer hopes to undertake a full marathon this fall, if he can.

McIntyre, based in Renfrew, Ont., explained this transition to by phone last week.

“It goes back to 1987,” he said. “I was hit by a car and got two compound fractures below the knee that took a year to heal. In 2005, in February, I was back in the bush on my farm when a big maple I was felling got caught in the wind and came down the wrong way. The same leg was hit, an inch below the old break.”

Despite seven operations to set the leg, McIntyre could sense that all was not well. “When I saw the surgeon coming, I knew,” he said. “I knew it was coming off and I accepted it.”

Two days later, on March 12, 2005, the leg was amputated just below the knee. McIntyre was 42 year-old. The stump healed quickly and a prosthetic limb was fitted within two months. But the trouble was not over. The scar from the first injury wore through the muscle and skin of the new stump within four days and infection set in. Finally another three inches of bone and flesh had to be removed from McIntyre’s lower leg.

“The whole year was a write-off,” said McIntyre. “It was January 2006 before I could relearn to walk. I had been using crutches all that time as I didn’t want to be in wheel chair. It was frustrating to wait.  I was one month in rehab and as soon as I started [to use the prosthesis] it seemed to come naturally to me. I had tears running down my face; I felt like a two-year old. They had to kind of hold me back so I wouldn’t do too much too quickly. I just wanted to go.”

McIntyre found he could do almost everything he wanted with his artificial limb, even lace up and help with the hockey program at his son’s high school. Then, encouraged by his wife who is a runner, McIntyre was fitted with a running ‘blade’ prosthetic and started to train, first running 5 km, then 10 and now a half-marathon.

“I started the Terry Fox Run eight years ago,” he continued. “When I’m training or if I have a bad day, I think about Terry. He did a full marathon every day and he didn’t even have the kind of leg we have now. The technology is advancing so quickly. If he had had a blade, he might have finished.”

McIntyre has also been speaking at various schools in the Ottawa Valley about the legacy of Fox’s Marathon of Hope and will visit Pontiac High School in Shawville in September.

“More and more people ask me to do it,” he said. “If it inspires someone to get off the couch and overcome a challenge I’m happy. I can do everything I did before my amputation. I don’t have ‘quit’ on my mind.”

Photo courtesy of the McIntyre Family

John Petty has been organizing the Terry Fox Run in Shawville since its inception. This year will be his 36th, the 35th for the students at Pontiac High School.

He arranged to have McIntyre speak to the students before this year’s run.

“Having Tom is important to us,” explained Petty. “Terry Fox died in the ‘80’s and we’re talking to kids who are 13 to 16 years-old. Their parents remember Terry but it can be hard to make the same connection with these younger kids. Having a chap like Tom helps make the connection more real, more meaningful for them. As a runner, he has to deal with the pain of the amputation; with that in common, maybe he can explain what it was like for Terry.”

Petty has been a staunch supporter of the Marathon of Hope’s goal. “Terry always said that if he couldn’t finish this, others would continue,” he said. “That’s the part that me and Rick and Tom come in, we’re keeping it going.”

The community Terry Fox Run will be help in Shawville, with sign-up beginning at 1 p.m. at the Pontiac High School parking lot on Maple Street. The Terry Fox begins at 2 p.m.

Bring your donations but, more importantly, bring as many people with you as you can. Petty and Valin hope to top last years number of participants, 160 people.

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