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 It seems that Steve’s Order of Canada has been revoked.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?