An orthotics and prosthetics technician on P.E.I. has created a replica of the artificial leg Terry Fox ran on in 1980, and is displaying it next to a modern prosthesis.

Paul Hoar said the display shows how much technology has changed, and underlines how impressive Fox’s achievement — running a marathon a day from St. John’s to Thunder Bay, Ont., — was 37 years ago.

“I don’t know how he did it. Trying to go back to the old-style stuff and I’m thinking how the heck did he do it,” said Hoar.

“A marathon in this every day was unbelievable.”

Marathon of Hope

On April 12, 1980, Fox set out to run across the country.

Three years earlier, when he was just 18, Fox was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his knee. His leg was amputated to save his life. He launched his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research.

After 143 days of running, the marathon stopped in Thunder Bay. The cancer had moved into his lungs and his decline was quick. On Sept. 1, 1980, he ran almost 30 kilometres. The next day he had trouble crossing the street.

Fox died June 28, 1981. The Marathon of Hope continues in his name, with people running all over Canada. The campaign has raised an estimated $750 million.

Losing energy

In 1980, artificial knees were made with elastic strapping. For someone running, the elastic did not respond quickly enough from one step to the next. That led to Fox’s curious hop-skip gait.

Modern prostheses include hydraulics that detect when someone is running, and change response speed for a more natural gait.

The two prostheses are currently on display at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. (Kerry Campbell/CBC News)

Modern prosthetic feet for running have also changed entirely. Rather than a natural-looking foot, a rounded hook actually returns energy from the ground to the runner with every step. When Fox ran, he lost energy to his prosthesis with every step.

A chance discovery

Hoar got the idea for creating the replica when he found an old knee piece while cleaning up for painters at Charlottetown’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

It was the same kind of knee that Fox had used. Figuring out how to build the rest of the replica took two months of research.

Terry Fox prosthetics

The technology for prosthetic running feet has completely changed. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

“I just figured if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right,” said Hoar.

“I’m not going to do something that looks like a leg. It’s like, no, it’s going to be the right leg.”

With the replica made, a loan of a modern prosthesis from Ossur Canada completed the display.

The two prostheses are currently being shown at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

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