Remembering the complicated legacy of Steve Fonyo, the 'other Terry Fox'_freckle removal realself

Remembering the complicated legacy of Steve Fonyo, the 'other Terry Fox'A few years after Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope, another young Canadian who'd lost a leg to cancer set out to jog across the country — and made it all the way. But he couldn't outrun his demons.

Social Sharing

Runner made it all the way across Canada, but couldn't outrun his demons

Jesse Campigotto · CBC Sports(Composite/The Canadian Press)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

The "other Terry Fox" travelled a hard road

This week marks the 42nd anniversary of the start of Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope. On April 12, 1980, the 21-year-old Canadian dipped his prosthetic right leg into the Atlantic Ocean near St. John's, Newfoundland and headed west, determined to run the entire 8,000 or so kilometres to the shores of Victoria, British Columbia to raise money for cancer research.

Fox never made it to the Pacific. After running the equivalent of close to a marathon a day for 143 straight days, his journey ended at about the 5,400-km mark, near Thunder Bay, Ont., when the cancer that had cost him his leg spread to his lungs. He died 10 months later. But his unfathomable courage and determination live on in Canadian lore, and more than $800 million has been raised for cancer research in his name through the annual Terry Fox Run.

Everybody in Canada has heard that story. But did you know that, just a few years after Fox's Marathon of Hope, another young Canadian who'd lost a leg to cancer also set out to run across the country to raise money for cancer research — and made it all the way?

Steve Fonyo lost his left leg to cancer when he was 12. At just 19, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada after completing his 425-day, coast-to-coast run by dunking his prosthetic into the Pacific Ocean in May 1985. In the process, he raised millions of dollars for cancer research. So how come everyone knows the Terry Fox story, and yet so few have heard of Steve Fonyo?

Like the man himself, it's complicated. One reason for Fonyo's relative obscurity is that, even at the time of his journey, he just didn't resonate with Canadians like Fox did. In contrast to his humble-seeming predecessor, Fonyo came across to some as self-aggrandizing. Plus, didn't Fox just try this? The lack of originality to Fonyo's quest may have hurt him too.

WATCH | Fonyo's 1984 run across Canada raised millions for cancer research:

Steve Fonyo | Shadow of a Hero

7 years agoDuration 9:28In 1984 Steve Fonyo picked up where Terry Fox left off. He ran across Canada raising millions for cancer research. But that was 31 years ago. And a lot has changed.9:28

There was also something a bit uncomfortable about Fonyo trying to complete Fox's abandoned journey (some might even say one-up him) so soon after his death. Everyone accepted that, if not for his cancer returning, Fox would have made it to Victoria. Now here was Fonyo, potentially jeopardizing the legacy of one of the most beloved Canadians of all time by doing what Fox surely would have if not for a cruel twist of fate. Also, from a pure athletic standpoint, Fox was literally twice as fast. He averaged about 38 km a day during the Marathon of Hope, compared to 19 km per day for Fonyo on his (somewhat derivatively named) Journey for Lives.

Let's be clear: any reasonable person has to take their hat off to Fonyo for completing that punishing coast-to-coast trek on one leg and raising all that money for cancer research. But anyone with doubts about him could find something to grab onto. And, in the decades following his run, Fonyo made it too easy for the doubters to dismiss his incredible accomplishment.

In 1996, Fonyo pleaded guilty in Edmonton to more than a dozen charges, including assault with a weapon, possession of a stolen vehicle and fraud. As told in court, he wrote more than $10,000 worth of fake cheques to supermarkets to buy cigarettes, which he then traded for cocaine. By 2009, he'd been convicted several times for drunk driving and served jail time. Late that year, the governor general's office made the rare decision to strip Fonyo of his Order of Canada because of his repeated criminal offences.

  • Fonyo loses his Order of Canada
  • Steve Fonyo, who lost leg to cancer and ran across Canada to raise funds, dead at 56
  • Steve Fonyo documentary explores Canadian hero's decline into addiction, homelessness

Fonyo's troubles continued in 2015 when, according to police, he was stabbed and beaten by three attackers who invaded his home in Surrey, B.C. He suffered brain damage from a head injury and spent a month in a medically induced coma.

A documentary on Fonyo released that year called Hurt portrayed a man trying to rebuild his life from the ruins of cocaine and alcohol addictions. Family and friends said he was doing better. Then, two months ago, Fonyo was in Vancouver to get the foot on his artificial leg repaired when his partner returned to their hotel room to find him experiencing an apparent seizure. Paramedics tried to revive him, but Fonyo died at the age of 56.

It's easy to see Steve Fonyo as a flawed version of Terry Fox. But he was his own man, with his own demons. And, in the end, he just couldn't outrun them.

WATCH | Steve Fonyo dies at age of 56 following apparent seizure:

Flawed Canadian hero Steve Fonyo dead at 56

2 months agoDuration 2:11Steve Fonyo, who lost his leg to cancer and then completed a cross-Canada run to raise funds for cancer research and became a national hero, has died at 56. Fonyo leaves behind a complicated legacy.Steve Fonyo documentary explores Canadian hero's decline into addiction, homelessness


top 10