TIFF 2015: Steve Fonyo seeks forgiveness through documentary 'Hurt'

Like Terry Fox, Steve Fonyo lost a leg to cancer and ran across Canada in the 1980s to raise millions for cancer research. Now, a new documentary shows how his legacy stands in stark contrast to Fox, mired in drugs, arrests and violence.

Steve Fonyo raised millions for cancer research, but his legacy is now mired in drugs, arrests

In 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

If Terry Fox is the iconic runner we all remember, Steve Fonyo is arguably the one Canadians have been eager to forget.

Like Fox, Fonyo lost a leg to cancer at the age of 19. Inspired by Fox's own Marathon of Hope, he embarked on a run across Canada in 1985 for cancer research, ultimately raising $13 million, seizing the national spotlight and becoming a hero in his own right.

Fonyo even achieved something Fox didn't: he completed his cross-country run, dipping his prosthetic leg in the Pacific Ocean.

Steve Fonyo, the subject of a new documentary premiering at TIFF, admits he has made mistakes. "I thought the only person I hurt was myself. I guess I was wrong." (CBC News)
On Sunday, as thousands embark on the annual Terry Fox run to honour Fox's legacy, a relatively small number of movie-goers will be in a Toronto theatre watching Hurt, a new documentary about Fonyo that has premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie shows in stark detail why Fonyo, despite his achievements, is not a national icon. Far from it. He's a troubled and complicated character who became an object of national scorn.

"I lost my way … I don't know why," he told Wendy Mesley in a recent interview on CBC's The National. "I thought the only person I hurt was myself. I guess I was wrong. I'm sorry."

Fonyo is sorry for the downwards spiral that took over his life and dominated headlines in the 30 years following his run. There were arrests. Fraud, theft and assault charges. Drug addiction. Suicide attempts. His speech is slurred in the CBC interview; he's recovering from stab wounds after a violent home invasion earlier this year that put him in hospital in a medically induced coma.

There are also emotional hurts. Fonyo still smarts over the fact that the Order of Canada was taken away from him.

Steve Fonyo dips his artificial limb in the Pacific Ocean in Victoria after completing his cross-country run in 1985. (The Canadian Press)
It's also clear that he's put out by the country's all-consuming adoration for Fox. 

In the documentary he visits British Columbia's Fonyo Beach, where a statue of Terry Fox has been erected. Its placement baffles Fonyo.

"To be honest with you, I am bothered by it. It's my beach. I finished (my run) there. No offence to Terry Fox, but his statue ... has no business being there. That's my opinion."

If anything, the documentary is Fonyo's chance to return to the spotlight in a positive way. He received a standing ovation at the documentary's first showing earlier this week. 

He viewed it as a sign of forgiveness from the public.

"The people were … very supportive and I thank them for that."


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