When you battle and survive cancer twice before high school, having an idol offers essential motivation. For Trent University English Literature student Tessa Smith, that idol is Terry Fox, and now, before entering her third-year, Ms. Smith is being recognized for living up to the ideals and qualities of Terry himself.
Ms. Smith recently became a Terry Fox Scholar, one of just 22 award recipients across Canada in 2019. The award recognizes young Canadians who exemplify the deep human empathy, compassion, and courage Terry Fox exuded, providing scholarships to encourage young Canadians to seek ideals of humanitarianism through the pursuit of higher education.
“I'm extremely honoured, and thrilled, and still very speechless. It is definitely the highest honour I've been bestowed, in my opinion,” Ms. Smith says.
Following the loss of her right eye at three-months-old, and her left leg 13 years later from two types of cancer, Ms. Smith has been an all-round spokesperson and advocate for cancer research, accessibility, and perseverance. She is one of the student governors on Trent’s Board of Governors. She created the online community Chatability for students around the world with disabilities. She was the Terry Fox Foundation poster girl and ambassador in 2016, traveling to 25 schools across Canada. She has delivered keynote speeches over the past six years on her experiences with cancer, and what she's accomplished afterwards. She has also written an opinion column with the Peterborough Examiner for the last two years.
Ms. Smith has only missed one Terry Fox Run in her whole life, so when she received the call from Terry’s brother, Fred Fox, letting her know she was an award winner—her interview was ranked first in Ontario—after her second time applying, she felt reassured and validated that she is doing enough to create change.
“When I delivered my speeches, I always felt like Terry Fox was right there with me. Getting the award feels the same, but now it's like he's with me at school, too. He's always with me.”
Ms. Smith feels even more motivated to build a legacy like Terry Fox and for Terry Fox and to maintain her high standard of academia, and humanitarian and philanthropic work. Next, she's hoping to work toward improving accessibility on campus in collaboration with the Board.