On a bitterly cold day in April 1980, a young man named Terry Fox touched the Atlantic Ocean on Canada's east coast, turned to the west and started running.

He was 21, with a nest of curly hair and a boy-next-door smile that would enchant photographers' cameras. He set off with a gait painful to watch. Two skips on his good left leg, followed by one stride on the metal pole where his right leg used to be.

His plan was audacious: to run across Canada -- 5,300 miles -- at the pace of a marathon a day, every day, to raise money to combat cancer like that which had claimed his leg.

Terry Fox ran his way into the hearts of Canadians with an astonishing physical effort. On the way, he became a hero and created a legend that is still growing here and spreading around the globe.

Every year, schools throughout Canada hold running events to raise money for cancer research. This fall, on the 25th anniversary of his run, organizers are counting on millions of children to run at the same time in what is being billed as the country's largest mass event.

Terry Fox Runs were made last year by 2.2 million people in more than 50 countries, in cities as diverse as Sydney and Zagreb, Kabul and Caracas. Nearly one in five Cubans ran "for" Terry Fox -- in the phrase used in the events -- last year. There is a 5K fun run in Washington on Sept. 17, starting in Georgetown.

His story remains an emotional touchstone for many. Schoolchildren run in the annual fundraisers wearing a badge with the name of someone they know -- too often a grandparent, friend or relative -- who has cancer or died of it. A Terry Fox documentary prompts tears when it is shown at civic events here every year.

Last week, at the kind of official ceremony over which he has presided hundreds of times, Toronto Mayor David Miller broke down on the podium as he talked of the effect of Terry Fox. His own mother died four years ago of cancer, the mayor said, and the story of the stubborn, one-legged runner plowing through his pain and isolation was a constant reminder of the toll of the disease.

"His story is amazing. It always affected me," Miller explained later.

Fox, a freckle-faced kid from a working-class family near Vancouver, hustled his way onto high school sports teams. In March 1977, what he thought was a minor sports pain in his knee grew until he collapsed. X-rays showed bone cancer -- osteosarcoma. A few days later, his right leg was amputated six inches above the knee and he began 16 months of chemotherapy. He was 18.

His former basketball coach visited Fox's bedside and showed him a story about Dick Traum, an amputee who had run in the New York City Marathon. The idea of taking on an athletic challenge stuck, Fox later said. After his therapy, he began training with the same gritty determination that had won him a spot as the shortest guard on the basketball team.

After he ran his first long-distance race -- coming in last as the other runners cheered at the finish line -- Fox came home and announced his plan to his mother, Betty. Eight months later, Fox was in St. John's, Newfoundland, with his best friend, Doug Alward, to start his "Marathon of Hope." They had a camper van donated by Ford, running shoes from Adidas, and coupons for $1,000 in gas and groceries. The St. John's mayor and a few reporters were there for the start; the mayor hugged him and tried to run along for a while.

But there was little else to encourage him. Support from the Canadian Cancer Society and local society officials was sporadic. Fox often arrived in towns to find no arrangements for media interviews or speeches to raise money for cancer research. He and Alward called local radio stations on pay phones, trying to promote the run. They slept in the camper on back roads or church parking lots.

But slowly, word of his run spread. At intersections of lonely rural roads, knots of 10 or 20 people appeared, cheering him on and stuffing bills into the collection basket carried by Alward.

People heard he was coming and urged him to take a break, to come into their kitchens. They fed him chocolate cake and washed his clothes and waved him off as he returned to the road. Motel owners sometimes donated a free room. He would swing by schools and talk to the students, standing before them in his gym shorts and T-shirt.

His brother Darrell, then 17, hurried through his high school exams and joined him in New Brunswick. Terry already had run 1,217 miles.

"I knew from that first day in St. John that I was witnessing something that would be talked about forever," Darrell Fox recalled this week by phone from British Columbia.

"The impact he was having on people with this incredible physical feat . . . people along the side of the road had tears of joy, tears of pride. I was witnessing a nation embracing my brother."

He was an appealing symbol for them: sunburned and handsome, he was the picture of youthful vigor -- except for that metal and plastic leg emerging from his running shorts.

The prosthesis chafed and blistered his stump as he ran. Reporters noticed blood running down the device. Terry suffered bone bruises on his left foot and lost his toenails. He confided to his diary that he often saw double and nearly fainted with dizziness.

He was on the road at 4:30 each morning, determined to make 14 miles before he rested, ate, slept and then returned to the roadside for 12 more miles in the afternoon. Sometimes he felt good and paused only for water. . Sometimes he could go only a mile or two before he had to stop, rest in the van and then resume. He averaged a 14-minute mile. His diary recorded one day's run as "the usual torture."

"He did what doctors and scientists said was impossible," said Isadore Sharp, the millionaire president of the Four Seasons Hotel chain, who had lost a 19-year-old son to cancer and became a key promoter of Fox's run. "He ran 26 miles a day, for 143 days: 3,339 miles on one leg. They say no body can stand up to that abuse. But he did it."

By the time the team reached Ontario, 1,880 miles into the run, it was summer, hot and muggy, but the crowds had grown. They were joined by Bill Vigars, an ebullient promoter from the Cancer Society, who promised Fox a big splash and delivered.

"Cars started to honk horns to support him rather than telling him to get off the road. A bus made a U-turn on the road and said they had taken up a collection when they passed him, and here it was," Vigars said. "It was like a snowball."

When he arrived in Toronto, throngs lined his way to the City Hall plaza.

"Terry was a kid from a small town who had never been in the big city," Vigars recalled in a conversation from Ottawa. "Ten thousand people in the square. . . . The look on his face -- I thought he was awestruck."

After that tumultuous reception, Fox returned to the road, anxious to reach the west coast before winter. He skip-ran through the torturous heat of July and August, now watched nearly every day by news cameras and larger crowds.

But on Sept. 1, 1980, Fox -- who had run through cold, heat, pain and misery with few complaints -- stopped. He had run 3,339 miles -- more than half the way across Canada -- to Thunder Bay, Ontario. He crawled into the camper and asked to be taken to the hospital. His chest hurt, badly. The cancer had spread to his lungs.

With one lung collapsing, Fox was flown home on a small jet. As the pictures of him being loaded on a stretcher dominated the newscasts, tears flowed across Canada.

"I thought this was an invincible human being who could accomplish anything," Darrell Fox said. "It never entered my mind that he wouldn't make it."

A week after Terry Fox stopped running, the CTV network staged a hastily arranged cancer fundraiser in his name. Stars such as Elton John, Gordon Lightfoot, Glen Campbell and John Denver lined up outside the studio.

They raised $8.5 million in a day for cancer research. Fox watched from his hospital bed. Ten months later, he was dead.

There was an avalanche of run-athons, sew-athons, even strip-athons to raise money in Fox's honor. Sharp put his hotel chain to work to sponsor the annual Terry Fox Run. The efforts have raised nearly $290 million from the start.

Canada's mint this year produced a $1 coin bearing a likeness of Fox -- the first time a king or queen was not on the currency. At least three books and two movies have been made about him. A peak in the Rocky Mountains is named after him, as are dozens of schools, streets and libraries across the country. His statue stands outside Parliament.

"Everyone who was around that time has a Terry Fox memory, whether it was the day he stopped his run, or the day he died, or an image of seeing him along the road," Darrell Fox said. "It is an image ingrained in Canadians."

Terry Fox ran to raise money for cancer research but was felled by the disease that eventually killed him.A plaque at Mount Terry Fox in British Columbia, one of many sites named for the fundraising runner, at left, after his death from cancer in 1981.