Saturday, August 29, 2009

The forgotten legacy of Steve Fonyo

Around this time of year, I would be gushing over the legacy of Terry Fox and the annual Terry Fox Run. I went to and bought the book-DVD-coin combo. The book is something that I've wanted to own for some time. Make no mistake... I will forever be a fan of Terry Fox, as he is my idol and one of the main reasons why I found an interest in long distance running... but I thought I'd do something different this year.

I'd like to devote a blog entry to talk about Steve Fonyo. Chances are that you have never heard of Steve Fonyo, but his story is just as tragic as that of Terry Fox... but for entirely different reasons. Like Terry, Steve Fonyo was a Canadian who lost his leg to cancer. Like Terry, Steve Fonyo decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

Steve Fonyo's "Journey for Lives" began on March 31 in 1984, about 4 years after Terry Fox had to stop his "Marathon of Hope" in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Journey for Lives was met with criticism from the media, as they branded Fonyo a "copycat" of Terry Fox. There were allegations that Fonyo was doing the run for selfish reasons and that it would take away from the legacy of Terry Fox. Regardless of whether these allegations were true or not, Steve Fonyo only received a fraction of the public support that Terry Fox did during his run.

Eventually, the Journey of Lives took Steve Fonyo beyond Thunder Bay, and all the way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Steve Fonyo completed his cross-Canada journey on May 29 of 1985. Later that year, Steve Fonyo was awarded the Order of Canada. He had raised $14 million dollars for cancer research. The beach in British Columbia where the Journey of Lives ended was renamed Fonyo Beach in honour of Steve.
Now you're probably asking the same question I asked when I learned about Steve Fonyo: "How come I've never heard of him before?!?" The same year that he completed the Journey for Lives, Steve's father passed away from lung cancer. Steve became depressed, and the media attention he was now getting was not helping. Even after running across Canada and raising $14 million for cancer research, Steve Fonyo was NOT treated favorably by the media. At this point in his life, Fonyo began making some very bad decisions. In the years that followed, Fonyo got mixed up in alcohol and cocaine. He began getting in trouble with the law. His convictions include assault with a weapon, aggravated assault, fraud, possession of a stolen vehicle, and several impaired driving charges. As recently as this month, he pleaded guilty to one count of assault.

For these reasons, history has quietly swept Steve Fonyo's legacy under the rug, favoring the more saintly legacy of Terry Fox. Some people say that Steve Fonyo got a raw deal, cheated by history after his remarkable achievement. Others say that Steve Fonyo was a selfish copycat who does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Terry Fox. I am unsure of which camp I belong in... The story of Steve Fonyo is a tragic story of an imperfect human being who accomplished something extraordinary. As I write this, Steve Fonyo may be sitting in a jail cell somewhere. One can only hope that he starts to make some better decisions in life.


Jason said...

This is a great story.

Our soceity's pursuit of hollywood perfection can be tragic.

I spent a lot of time with the Terry Fox Foundation during school, and heard from Terry Fox's parents and siblings several times. They didn't pretend Terry was a saint (his outlook, behaviour, etc.), he was just as flawed as any normal person.

Perhaps we brush that aside since his run ended tragically, and we prefer a more perfect, tragic story to hold up as a standard.

Anonymous said...

I was 10 years old and excited when Steve Fonyo passed through Moose Jaw. I was even more excited when I heard he would be at a luncheon at the church I went to youth group at.

My excitement changed when I met him. He came in the side door of a gym like room, where there were maybe 20-30 people waiting to meet him. He didn't say Hi to anyone, and was visibly pissed off, he started swearing at the older woman with him who I have always assumed was his mom, and was giving her shit that he didn't want to come there, after a few minutes he went back out the door he came in.
It is a fuzzy memory from over 20 years ago, but I do remember thinking he was a jerk from then on.

Bill G said...

Many thanks for this article. I remember Steve Fonyo's run very well and have marvelled at how easily we forget when it suits us. I had not seen a reference to Steve Fonyo for many years until I stumbled across this blog. I have no reason to doubt that his motivation in running across Canada was simply to complete something that a fellow amputee had started and, tragically, could not finish -- and perhaps to prove something to himself, as well as raise money for cancer research. As for his rough edges, maybe that's what's required of someone with the guts and determination to run across the prairies in the middle of winter on one leg. And that's after running all the way from Newfoundland. Very few of us can even imagine what that is like.

I know Fonyo ran into trouble with the law later in his life. That in no way detracts from his amazing accomplishment. Whatever path his life takes him down, I wish him the very best.

Anonymous said...

welll.... ii no steve fonyoo varry well he was my best friends old man .... nd i hade some pretty funnie times with steve fonyo me nd him well we sstole shrim from super sstore in surrey .bc and sold them for some ~good stuff~ lol

i alsoo can say steve almost ran me ova well he was drunk nd driving
from your shrimp

Anonymous said...

As I remembner Steve's run he said that he did the first part "for Terry" and Aftert Thunder Bay it was his run and his legacy (or soemthing like that). I on the other hand thought it should be the other way arund. He should have dipped his leg in the Pacific, after having crossed dthe entire country, for Terry, because Terry didnt get to do it!

Anonymous said...

To me Steve is a greater man than Terry. He did not hide his weaknesses and he was himself. I have known a few that were close to Terry who said he was also a drunk at times, but you won't hear about that...God no...not our precious Terry. People with disabilities want to be treated equally right? here it is...Terry failed...Steve succeeded. This is what you would say if these were two "abled bodied people trying to achieve the same thing. No matter the reasons or personalities or any media bullshit....plain and simple. Terry failed. Steve did it!

Michael said...

This is indeed a sad story, it is one of a man who having pursued greatness, and having achieved it, has then sought to tear down that achievement. This is the untold story of children who survive cancer, but are battered for the rest of their lives by the very treatments that saved them from certain death.

Anonymous said...

steve fonyo was caught riding in the van for many miles rather than running. There was controversy throughout the entire run. He and his Father also stole donations to prop up their failing family restaurant. They may have paid it back but only after they were caught. Sadly, the apple does not fall far from the tree and he is probably just another example of what happens to children who do not receive the guidance they require when growing up. Perhaps he started out at 18 with good intentions but the majority of his adult life has been a failure.

Lisa Greenwood said...

Look loser: The one that talked about Steve's Dad. The man is DEAD and ur talking about him like that. It just shows what kind of man you must be. A hole lot lower than Steve will ever go. I'd spit in your face for that comment you left and I hope you go to hell for it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

He IS a Canadian hero. He raised millions in charity dollars. More than I can say for many of us Canadians. He is battling life, it is tough for him. Does that make him any less a hero in our eyes?


Carole B said...

Steve may have lost his way along the road he has travelled, but wouldn't it have been better to offer him help, before stripping him of his Order of Canada? He earned at least that - not to mention the MILLIONS that has been there for other Cancer patients. I met his father in Vernon many times and myself and others found him a great inspiration to Steve. He was a fine man. Steves personna was unlike his father and it could not have been easy for Steve to always feel unwelcome with both the press & the public, who began criticising him long before his journey. Small town attitudes leave lasting impressions and least we forget he was just a young man trying to make a difference for others. He did just that and who out there can say they could accomplish such a feat? Even on TWO legs. Shame on you! None of us are perfect. His mothers heart must have been broken & we're to blame...SO SAD.

David W. Morrow said...

Steve Fonyo obviously has many personal problems some of his own making. However, he did do a great thing for all of us at the young age of 18 for which he was justly awarded the Order of Canada. The fact that his post-award conduct was not good is not justification in my opinion for removal of his award. Below I append a letter to the editor (Calgary Herald) in support of this:

Re: “Faulting Fonyo” and “Fonyo still a Canadian hero – warts and all,” Jan. 26.
The cited articles expressed opposing viewpoints concerning the recent forfeiture of Mr. Steve Fonyo’s Order of Canada. Mr. Fonyo apparently has committed a number of regrettable offences which resulted in forfeiture of the award.
All awards are given in recognition of some action or activity that society deems meritorious and that rise above what might be considered societal norms of individual commitment to these selfsame actions or activities. Arguably, the purest and most non-political award of the western world is the Victoria Cross, awarded for valour in the face of the enemy and still awarded separately in most commonwealth countries. It is almost the only award given specifically for a single action of extreme bravery in the face of the enemy (many are awarded posthumously). The original Royal Warrant for the Victoria Cross allowed for the award’s forfeiture if the awardee indulged in discreditable post-award activities, much like those of the unfortunate Mr. Fonyo. This feature has remained unchanged and the possibility remains that any Victoria Cross recipient could be stripped of their medal (we would have to consult at the pearly gates concerning the posthumous conduct of many recipients to see if they have misbehaved themselves!).
However, in 1920, King George V expressed the opinion that no crime committed by any holder of the VC can justify forfeiture of their VC, even if sentenced to be hanged for murder! The King’s opinion held, and since that time no VC has ever been forfeited for any cause. In this judgement, I am the King’s man and I support the opinion offered by Mr. Ian Mulgrew. If the Order of Canada is truly a significant award it cannot be revoked and Mr Fonyo should be permitted to retain and wear it just as he “wears” the consequences of his otherwise anti-social activities. If the Order of Canada truly represents “an ideal” then it follows it can never truly be revoked once awarded!

David W. Morrow, Calgary, Alberta

Susan MacNeill said...

What is this teaching our nation? We need to revamp the rules for this Order? I wonder if this can be taken away posthumously?
Steve did a great thing - brought not only awareness of accessibility but millions of dollars to research.
Life's journey is challenging enough without the microscope of the media hounding you. Imagine any one of us completing this courageous run on 2 legs - let alone one!!
Canada should be truly embarrassed by this disgraceful repeal of his medal!

Alan said...

When you run that many miles, you become an individual - no longer can you be a "copy-cat" as some suggest. With the struggle of different abilities (flatly refuse to call it "dis"ability) these people add into the mix of accomplishment, the acts in themselves show the real heart of the person.

Then, as time does for us all, sadness struck the heart and the mind. Friendships may have been lost, love's fruit; joy, happy community interaction, friendships, easy support and more are lost. Love itself is never lost, we just become blind to it.

Then a fall - and a new relationship with the public. It doesn't often occur to the public that this new damage, being run over by the massive money-machine with it's public paint-job we call a legal system is no accident. Intent works both ways,and there is a taste among justice officials and bureaucrats to come down harder on the famous. It's a sick response, the response of truly disabled people who have lost their values for common humanity and instead are damning a statue.

I applaud Steve for his run against inhumanity: his work in the face of failure, and his new success in the community of humankind. Bravo, Steve!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this story. I'm a huge fan of Steve Fonyo, always have been. I saw him run in Kelowna,BC Canada. He had an aura about him that projected to the people standing watching. Terry Fox gets all the glory but Steve Fonyo was able to finish and raised so much for Cancer. I wrote an article about him that was published in the Vancouver Book because I wanted everyone to feel the greatness about him.
I wish him all the happiness he deserves and has a wonderful life.

Carol Woodman,

Anonymous said...

My personal opinion of this man is very low. It is now spiraling downward at an ever faster rate.

I grew up thinking he was a decent guy who finished a job for Mr. Fox.

I read with great dismay the loss of his Order Of Canada. He completed the run which can not be taken away from him. I still sort of feel that way - though a small part of me is reconsidering this opinion.

I have encountered him briefly several times in person. First couple times he seemed okay. Not so much okay as time moves on. I am now of the personal opinion that he is NOT a decent guy.

His latest antics leave a great deal to be desired. They involve a large white van that was supplied to him so he could move to his new home with his new wife.

For some reason it seems to contain a large (1000-2000 liters or so)container of gasoline, which several people keep driving away with small amounts of. In their fuel tanks. Or in several well used five-gallon jerry cans with Mr. Fonyo's name plastered all over them.

I am somewhat curious about this situation.

Anonymous said...

An update on Mr. Fonyo.

The 5 ton truck, complete with a massive container of gasoline, has been impounded for 24 hours by Surrey By-Law and police. (To the best of my knowledge)

Mr Fonyo and his wife are not happy at all with the situation.

As it turns out, not only were they storing both full and empty 5 gallon cans of gas in their home, but a very large (estimated 40lb capacity) propane tank, an estimated 20 lb oxygen tank and an estimated 30lb acetylin tank have since been moved from INSIDE their home to the driveway in preparation for moving.

These sorts of tanks are often used for gas welding/cutting.

I am fairly certain that proper storage of these types of pressurized tanks is typically NOT in your living room or bedroom.

Anonymous said...

I know Steve very well. His story is tragic. A guy who keeps making mistakes but you still can't take away what he did. He was 12 when he lost his leg to cancer. He was 18 when he finished his run and raised 14 millions dollars. He didn't just run here in Canada. Steve also ran in the UK. It is a shame they took away his Order of Canada. I wonder what the people who took it away ever did in their lives to compare to Steve's run.

Lisa Fonyo said...

Hi Everyone,

I'd like to start off by thanking everyone that has supported Steve over the years. Yes, Steve's had alot of problems with major issues in his life. But I'm sure so have many other people that you just don't see in the news or in the papers.

I really hope a documentary that is being filmed as of now will help clear alot of the misunderstanding that people feel towards Steve. A film producer from Toronto approached Steve and I sometime ago and told us what she had in mind. We thought this would be a great opportunity to be able to get Steve's side of the story out into the public. We can hardly wait for it to be released.

Also, as Steve's new wife I can tell you that living with Steve sure hasn't been the easiest period in my life. He is opinionated,stubbon,old fashion,hypicitical,and his ego can get to be a bit much. But other than that he's the smartest, most intellagent, and hard working person I've ever met. I've watched him fight his way threw tigh high snow to get to the road to meet up with his ride to make it to work only to come back so dirty and greasy from laying on the ground under 18 wheeler all day and he never once called in sick for work in the years we've been together now.

He is really hard to get to know. I mean really know the Steve Fonyo that he can trust and let down some of his walls. Cause since the run Steve has found it impossible to trust anyone and I'm sure thats where his "attitude" has come from.

Otherwise, the comments that really have nothing good to say about Steve, do you really think it hurts him at all. The only comments that Steve cares about are the ones that people have made about supporting him. Anything else is purely opinions and I have said it to him before that those people really aren't happy in their own lives to be speaking so badly about him and probably everyone else too.

I just wish I could stop all the lies that are printed about Steve with a flick of my majic stick. So many of you would be surprised to see what would be left to print afterwards.

Again thanks for all your support and please remember to not believe everything you read in the papers or hear on the news.

Lisa Fonyo

Rocco Catalano - Williams Lake, BC said...

Steve Fonyo is part of a rare legacy, such that he took on a quest of incredible proportions for a cause, while having a significant, physical disability.

If anyone ever has a negative comment about Steve, that person should hit the blacktop and take on what Steve did. If in fact you should succeed in such a venture as Steve accomplished, I'm sure it would be a rewarding, life changing experience.

Steve crossed the second largest country in the world but for some, it wasn't quite enough. Even with all the adversity he experienced, I'm sure this was out weighed by the many positive aspects of during his run. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the impression one might receive from the many media reports that have dogged Steve.

I was ashamed of those who were party to the decision to take away Steve’s,” Order of Canada." A physical medal can be seized but no one can strip Steve of his amazing legacy. I hope that such a myopic decision will be revoked and set straight.

How many have ever attained such a goal at 20 or any other age?

Rocco Catalano - Williams Lake, BC

Anonymous said...

I heard a radio/game show today on CBC. One of the questions was, "how many times has an order of Canada been revoked and name who it happened to?" No one knew how many times, but one of the correct answers was Steve Fonyo. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. My 23 year old daughter asked who he was and after thinking for a bit, I told her, "I think he did the same as Terry Fox."

Shame on me for not immediately recognizing his name. I guess he just did it "too soon"? Too soon after Terry? Then I remember hearing he was a bit of a jerk. Now I remember his troubles. And then he was never spoken of again. The shame of Canada or the shame of cancer. Did he do this to make himself rich and famous?

I don't know. Steve accomplished a remarkable feat. He seems to have been swept under the rug. I remember well Terry Fox and Rick Hanson, but Steve not so much.

I guess if you want to do a big gesture, you better be be good and always be good. As a nation we are quick to judge and even quicker to condemn.

Suusie said...

There should be a memorial to Steve just as there is to Terry. , at every site. Period. I tell the story of Steve fonyo whenever Terry fox name comes up. Shame on the cancer society & shame us.

abab93 said...

I personally know Steve Fonyo and he is a man with a good heart who did an unbelievable thing for cancer research for whatever reasons he did it for he achieved and raised millions of dollars. Only because of mistakes he has made since does not take away the beautiful thing he did for humanity. SO SHAME ON ALL OF YOU WHO CONDEMN HIM BECAUSE BELIEVE ME HE HAS DONE THAT WELL ENOUGH ON HIS OWN

Lisa Fonyo said...

It has been sometime since I have been able to check all the comments on the internet about Steve but I am sure finding out that there seems to be alot more people out there that are taking notice of what the cancer society did or did not do for Steve. Thinking of before, during and after his run. Well lets take before. Not a whole lot. Steve and his sister got all the sponsorship and raised the money to begin his run on their own. During, they were more than happy to send people to run right along with Steve to collect the money that way being donated, but at every chance they could they had him taken off the hwy to attend schools, hospitals, dinners plus meetings with everyone that asked to have him attend here or there. Not something Steve became very fond of doing. He just wanted to keep running. The cancer society even got mad at him when he took sometime off the run to purse a female friend he had become very fond of. There is so much more that they put him threw during his run it is really hard to get into it now. ok after, shortly after his run and Steve was running in the UK he got a call to return home cause his dad and best friend was ill. Steve rushed home to be by his dads side as he watched him die of lung cancer. But yet the cancer society never offered Steve help in conselling or help in anyway to help him with his grief. Is that something that they do. Or is it just something they didnt do for Steve. With the depression that Steve fell into after that he soon tried to cover the pain with drugs and alchol. Did the cancer society help then. NOT.. The only thing that the cancer society has done for Steve is not givin him the recongition he deserves. They did try to get Steve to sign a agreement in 2007. That they would pay for the servicing and repairs of his leg for the rest of his life. But knowing very well that Steve was still in the throws of his additions they added a paragraph that in not so many words said that he was not allowed to say anything bad about the cancer society or they would take the agreement away. I do not think Steve made any rules on the money he gave the cancer sociey before he donated it. Plus they were asked to help put a new marker at mile 0 for Steves 25 anniversary. Their answer back with no explaination was simply NO. Why did they not help in retaining Steves order of Canada. Plus on the cancer society web site in the search bar type in Steve Fonyo and see what comes up. NOTHING. And just this year they offered Steve $1200.00 a month for the rest of his life to simply GO AWAY. of course Steve refused. And there is really so much more that I could go on and on about the cancer societys involvement in the way Steve has been pushed under the rug as I have heard so many times from so many differant people that I think they owe Steve a huge apology as well as they should be giving Steve the reconition he derserves. I know these facts because I am his wife Lisa and I have a potition I have started that I am looking forward to going to the papers with once there is 1000 signatures of people that feel the same way as I do. That the cancer society took the money and ran. Without even looking back. So please if you have the time and agree with me can you see if you can find my potiiton and sign it for me as well as to show your support for Steve.

Thanks for your support over the years cause god knows Steve can not get it from the cancer society.

Lisa Fonyo

Lisa Fonyo said...

Hi there

That petition site is: Then look under policial - the canadain cancer society.

Thanks again

Michael said...

Sorry, the man ruined his own life. It is tragic but true. He and his wife can blame everyone around them forever but it's true, he is ultimately responsible for his condition and regrettably it sounds like his wife is enabling him. I hope and pray no children are entwined in this. Sorry Lisa but you made this more than just about Steve's run with your rambling "explanations" and have therefore opened yourself and your spouse to criticism.

Barbara said...

My daughter ran with Steve when he came to Victoria we thought that it was important for her to see him finish his run and be part of it. To me he was a hero and through the years I have always defended and stood up for him. But now I would say to Steve no matter what anyone says be true to yourself take responsiblity and make better choices. Don't let the media dictate who you are there are people like me who remember you and want to remember you in a positive way. But you through your choices are making it very difficult Barbara Victoria BC

Anonymous said...


It's been a long time since anyone posted here. Steve is in the local news again because he's trying to clean up his life and someone got wind of it.

Steve: it's time to run again. If you're healthy enough and well enough mentally then run across the f*c(#!g country again and shut up the detractors. It won't be hard to find a sponsor if you're keeping clean.

My guess is you could raise $100 million this time. The whole country would support you.

I'll even lobby the government to re-instate your Order of Canada.

Give 'er.

Anonymous said...

Run, Steve.

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Charles Balfour said...

I visited Victoria with my wife in October 2017 and we were both shocked and dismayed to see a statue of Terry Fox in the place where Steve Fonyo had successfully completed his cross country run. We feel sure that Terry Fox would not approve of stripping Steve of the honour that he deserves. Like all of us Steve has his problems and challenges but it is sad not to focus on and celebrate the good that this courageous Canadian achieved. Rev. Charles Balfour and Ms. Monique Campbell