Today's investiture of 43 persons into the Order of Canada reminded me of something I thought about during the recent Olympics -- the absence of Steve Fonyo as a participant in any of the ceremonies. Once upon a time, just like Terry Fox or Rick Hansen, he was good enough to be one of our heroes. But that was back when he was running across Canada on one leg and raising $13 million for cancer.
Only then, something happened. He screwed up. And more than once. But it seems to me he screwed up in some pretty human ways.
He fell for the lure of celebrity, got into bad drugs and too much booze, and got himself arrested more than once. He even did a bit of time. But, despite the superhuman feat he'd accomplished (running 7,924 km/4,924 miles across the country), his crimes were enough to have him divested of his Order of Canada.
As far as I can tell, only two other people have been stripped of this honour -- David Ahenakew and Alan Eagleson. Ahenekew lost his for making harshly anti-Semitic remarks, an action we've come to call hate crime. And anyone who watches hockey knows what Eagleson did to (and in the name of) the NHL.
The motto of the Order of Canada is 'They desire a better country.' As far as I can tell, Steve Fonyo hasn't done anything to indicate he doesn't still 'desire a better country.' He didn't try to get rich by stealing any of the millions he raised for cancer. He hasn’t insulted anyone for who they are. Fonyo hasn’t so much let his country down as Canada has let him down – by denying the value of what he did and reneging on the award he earned.
Freelancer Claude Adams has created an insightful radio documentary about Fonyo. Called "Journey to Normal", it was broadcast on CBC's 'The Current' on March 31st. If you click on this link, you can hear the whole show or just listen to the sections on Fonyo (part two and at the show's end).
Fonyo's story isn't a pretty one. But really -- if Terry Fox hadn't died of cancer, who's to say whether his life might not have had a few bumps too?