Of the dozen or so off-court projects that NBA star-turned-entrepreneur Steve Nash is juggling (learn more in our profile and slideshow), “Into the Wind,” his documentary on Terry Fox, is by far Nash’s most personal project. The riveting and wrenching film airs tonight at 8pm on ESPN as part of its outstanding 30 for 30 series. Set your Tivo. Now.
As a boy growing in Western Canada, Nash followed the remarkable story of Fox, a fellow British Columbian, who, after losing his leg to cancer as a 20-year-old college basketball player, set out in 1980 to run the length of Canada to raise money for cancer research. Fox’s Marathon of Hope required him to run a marathon or more a day on his prosthesis, and became daily front-page news throughout the country.
When I spent time with Nash in Vancouver late last year, he and Ezra Holland, his cousin, co-director and co-founder of production company Meathawk, were hard at work editing. In between playing a Phoenix Suns pre-season game and making various appearances, Nash talked excitedly about the film shoot that summer and showed me footage on his iPhone.
“I got to drive the van!” he gushed at one point. He meant Fox’s van, a sacred vehicle in Canada.
Before the media, corporate sponsors and politicians caught on, the Marathon of Hope was a modest two-man operation. Fox ran. Doug Alward, his high school buddy, drove the van they lived in while on the road and collected donations. But once the media learned about a 22-year-old running coast-to-coast on one good leg, Fox became a sensation. Crowds lined the road. People ran alongside him. Towns hosted rallies for him. He found himself struggling not only to keep running but also to handle the expectations of an inspired nation. He was for Canadians what Lance Armstrong later became for Americans, as much a symbol as a man.
After 3,339 miles and 143 days, the only thing that could stop Fox was cancer. Not that the marathon ended there. The 30th Terry Fox Run took place last weekend. Fox, who initially hoped to raise $1 million, is credited with more than $500 million in cancer fundraising.
Nash doesn’t appear in the film, and it’s a credit to the folks at ESPN Films that they didn’t insist on what would have been an unnecessary cameo. Nash’s creativity comes through, though, from the opening shot of Fox dipping his prosthetic foot in the Atlantic Ocean to the dizzying flash of childhood photos during Fox’s diagnosis.
Nash, a point guard extraordinaire, sets up his subject and gets out of the way. Again and again, we see Fox running. In the cold of spring, in the summer heat, in the rain. Alone on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by well wishers in Toronto. We hear him, too, that distinctive ba-dum-step rhythm. Mile after mile. Fox runs, and keeps running. Until he can’t.