Ever heard of Steve Fonyo?

Ever heard of Steve Fonyo? What about Terry Fox?

If you’re like most Canadians, the first name drew either foggy familiarity or a complete blank, while the second drew clear recognition and deep admiration. Actually, both men are arguably Canadian heroes. Let me explain.

Terry Fox was the young man who challenged all Canadians to stand up against cancer with his “Marathon of Hope”. In April of 1980, only three years after losing his right leg to cancer, 21-year-old Terry began his run across Canada to raise money for cancer research by dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean. His goal was to garner a dollar from every Canadian, 24.17 million of us at the time. Just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, 143 days and 5 373 km later, cancer in both lungs forced Terry to stop his run. Amidst continuing fund-raising efforts, Terry was awarded the Order of Canada. By February of 1981 Terry’s $24.17 million goal was surpassed. Less than five months later, Terry died a hero, just short of his 23rd birthday. His slogan throughout his effort was

“Somewhere the hurting must stop…”

In March of 1984, a young man who lost his left leg to cancer dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean to mark the beginning of his “Journey for Lives” to raise funds for cancer research. Steve Fonyo, 18 years of age when he began, ran very much in Terry Fox’s shadow. Amidst criticism for being a copy-cat, Steve persevered across the country and through all four seasons, completing his run of 7 924 km on May 29, 1985 by dipping his leg in the Pacific Ocean. He didn’t stop there, but ran across the UK as well, raising a total of $14 million for cancer research. In 1985 Steve’s efforts were officially recognized when he was awarded the Order of Canada, the youngest ever to receive it at that time. Steve grieved the loss of his father to lung cancer that same year.

What brought these courageous young Canadians to mind was a news article that was forwarded to me this week. It seems that Steve’s Order of Canada has been revoked. Unlike Terry, the infinitely charming hero who always managed a smile and an optimistic word for both the public and the press, Steve could be cantankerous. Even during his run, news stories appeared of thoughtless words and gruff behaviour. In the years that followed, he battled demons both internal and external, resulting not only in diagnoses of mental health issues, but also criminal convictions… many of them.

In my humble opinion, something’s gone awry here. Steve Fonyo’s “Journey for Lives” did and still does fall within the Order of Canada’s goal to be assigned to those who display the “highest degree of merit, an outstanding level of talent and service, or an exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity”. Should the Order of Canada really be issued with the demand that the recipient live a spotless life thereafter?

My bigger question, however, takes me back to the beginning of this rant. Why was Steve Fonyo so easily forgotten in the first place? To say that his lack of people skills and failure to woo the press did him in is to say that these are the skills that made Terry Fox memorable, a philosophy to which I vehemently object. Worse still would be to say that Terry’s death made him memorable as a martyr for his cause. In a society that bestows celebrity on movie stars and the children of billionaires, I fear that this is just one more example of a man’s image being more relevant than his efforts and accomplishments.

Am I the only one who sees that as a problem?

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4 Responses to Ever heard of Steve Fonyo?

  1. ema says:

    Well said, again Kai. If the Order of Canada is given out with the understanding that the recipient leads an exemplary life thereafter, it begs the question: How many will refuse to accept it?

  2. Sonet says:

    I am in 2 minds about this one… Firstly, I am of the opinion, that if any person have deserved to be commemorated for an award in the first place… what does it matter what they do after it has been awarded?! But… being an ex member of the military forces (and knowing how people think and feel about merit awards, medals, etc…) I cannot help but add that if an award is so prestigious and one’s actions after such an award is of a disgrace and defames such a previous award… to preserve the “prestigious and outstanding award” and to uphold its value… one doesn’t want any negative connotation to it by someone (or something) that may cause defamation to the award in the first place. So… I think each case should be judged on its own merit… I’m sure your argument will be supported by many, but the same can be said that many will not support it. I guess it all boils down to the criteria for such an award and the reasons for having it revoked. I guess it’s like driving your car recklessly after you have received your licence… or speeding and not abiding to traffic rules, etc. It’s a privilege to have such a licence… but if you don’t obey rules and regulations, it gets revoked! And so the list can go on… Maybe if we have more information available on why it got revoked and for what reasons, then one can formulate if it was legitimate or not. So many ifs and whys…

  3. Fyn says:

    Steve Fonyo had the misfortune to survive . You have it in a nutshell. If he was dead he would be as iconic as Terry Fox.

    The bigger issue for me is, all these years after Terry Fox died, and all the millions of dollars that have been raised in his name, and there is more cancer around than ever. Cancer is an industry. As long as it is making money for someone the dream of a cure will never be realized.

  4. Lisa G says:

    Hi Everyone

    As Steve’s soon to be wife I would just like to thank all the support he has gotten from everybody through all of this. And As fpr the so many that
    have said “Steve Fonyo is a jerk” well all I have to say to them is “Why don’t just one of you go out and raise millions of dollars for the charity of your choice?” I’m sure they would welcome your donation. Don’t you.
    Steve and I would just like to say thanks again for all the support
    Lisa G

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