Fonyo Beach, a 56-er story

The failed 1956 Revolution was a traumatic event in Hungary’s history.  Today the “Hungarian Diaspora” tends to paint a rosy picture about the fate of the 56-er immigrant families, those who were allowed to settle in Canada and the US after 1956.  They are often portrayed as “heroes” and “freedom fighters” and many of the 56-ers became very successful indeed.  As always, there is the other side of the coin.

This is the story of Steve Fonyo from Canada.

I’m old enough to remember that in 1984 we watched with amazement on TV here in California the almost unbelievable achievement of Steve Fonyo who walked across Canada.

Stephen Charles Fonyo Jr. was born in 1965 in Montreal.  He was the son of Hungarian 56-ers; father Stephen and mother Anna who managed a restaurant.  In 1969 the family moved to Vancouver BC, and soon tragedy struck.  Little Steve lost his left leg to cancer at age 12.

In 1984 the 18 year old embarked on a cross-Canada marathon entitled “Journey for Lives” to raise funds for cancer research. He walked with a prosthetic leg for 425 days covering 7,924 km (4,924 mi) and raising $14 million Canadian dollars.

Steve Fonyo

Steve Fonyo, his immigrant story and his fight with cancer became an overnight sensation.   Countless newspaper article and TV interviews covered his walk.  He was hailed as a hero and in 1985 the 20-year old was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, the youngest person ever given the Order at the time. His beloved father died of lung cancer the same year

From there it was downhill.

First he started to get speeding tickets. In 1987 he was charged with drunk driving.  A couple of years later assault charges.  He was charged with stealing cars and writing bogus checks.   Court hearing and charges started to pile up.  He ended up in jail.

Fonyo became an embarrassment and in 2010 was stripped of his Order of Canada.  Officially he was never notified, he heard about it from another inmate in jail.

Today Steve Fonyo in 54 years old and he is in the limelight again.   In recent years two remarkable documentaries were made about his struggles entitled Hurt and Hope.   Steve is trying to rebuild his life and we wish him the best.

Canada still remembers well his achievement.  There is a gorgeous beach in Victoria BC, at the Pacific Ocean called Fonyo Beach to commemorate his remarkable cross-Canada marathon.

György Lázár

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