Steve Fonyo documentary explores Canadian hero's decline into addiction, homelessness

The tragic life of a one-legged cancer survivor who ran across Canada and the United Kingdom has been put on display in a documentary being screened in Winnipeg next week.

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

Steve Fonyo, the subject of a documentary being screened in Winnipeg next week, admits he has made mistakes. (CBC News)

The tragic life of a one-legged cancer survivor who ran across the country is being put on display in a recent documentary.

Hurt delves into the life of former marathoner Steve Fonyo, a man whose life fell into a state of disarray after running all the way across Canada.

Flimmaker Alan Zweig will be screening the film in Winnipeg next weekend as part of Canada's Top Ten Film Festival.

"I thought it was a good story and I wanted to figure out how the whole thing happened," Zweig said. "It's a tragedy … it's a trajectory that a lot of people have suffered.

Fonyo lost his leg to cancer as a teen. He would go on to run coast to coast between 1984 and 1985, in the process raising about $8 million for cancer research and becoming the youngest recipient to receive the Order of Canada.

His life then took a turn. Fonyo developed substance abuse issues, was sentenced to time in jail and eventually stripped of his Order of Canada award.

"His story, I think, is particularly instructive, because most stories of addiction and troubles do not have in the middle of [them] an extraordinary achievement like he did, like running across the country—it's an astonishing achievement."
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      The man who created and fitted Fonyo with the prosthetic he used to run across the country appears in the film. He remarks on the depth of Fonyo's achievements and his subsequent decline. Zweig said he thinks "10 seconds after he finished the run," Fonyo started down a negative path.

      "In some ways, the run was almost like a cry for help," Zweig said. "His life may have gone this way anyway, but in some ways I think the run made it go there more spectacularly."

      In the film, the audience sees Fonyo swearing profusely, fighting, breaking up with his partner(s), and going to court.

      "I felt that getting to see all the warts was the only way you could tell the story," he said. "I think it's a complicated story."

      Fonyo's legacy, which also saw him run across the United Kingdom, isn't considered on the same terms as Canada's more well-known one-legged long distance runner, Zweig added.

      "I've said this before: if Terry Fox is a hero for running halfway across the country, then you cannot deny that Steve was a hero for running all the way across the country," Zweig said. "He was a hero by our terms."

      Hurt Cinematheque in the Exchange District Jan. 15 and Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.


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