150+ Canadians Day 53: Athlete Advocates

Athlete Advocates, like Fox, Hansen, Keith, Hughes, & Kennedy, contribute to peace through advocacy. #Canada150

We celebrate 5 outstanding Canadian athletes and advocates (Terry Fox, Rick Hansen, Vicki Keith, Clara Hughes, and Sheldon Kennedy), all members of the Order of Canada, all of whom have contributed in their own unique ways to making Canada a more peaceful society.  Whether through raising funds or increasing public awareness and understanding of social issues, their efforts have constructively impacted on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Terry Fox (b. 1958; d.1981) was a Canadian athlete, humanitarian, and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated, he began the Marathon of Hope, a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research. He hoped to raise one dollar from each of Canada’s 24 million people. He began with little fanfare from St. John’s, Newfoundland, in April and ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day. Fox had become a national star by the time he reached Ontario. He made numerous public appearances with businessmen, athletes, and politicians in his efforts to raise money. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometers, and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over $650 million has been raised in his name.

He was the youngest person ever named a Companion of the Order of Canada. He won the 1980 Lou Marsh Award as the nation’s top sportsman and was named Canada’s Newsmaker of the Year in both 1980 and 1981. Terry Fox is considered a national hero and continues to inspire people in their efforts to find a cure for cancer.

Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour was inspired by the dream of creating an accessible and inclusive world and finding a cure for spinal cord injury (SCI). For 26 months, he and his team wheeled over 40,000 km through 34 countries raising awareness about the potential of people with disabilities, creating accessible and inclusive communities, and finding a cure. The Rick Hansen Foundation was established in 1988, following the completion of the Man In Motion World Tour, to continue raising funds and awareness to create a world without barriers for people with disabilities. For nearly 30 years, the Foundation has been actively improving the lives of people with disabilities, changing perceptions and breaking down barriers. The vision of the organization is to create an inclusive world where people with disabilities can reach their full potential. Through programs, collaboration and leadership, the Foundation has increased awareness and solutions for the barriers people with disabilities face, created more accessible spaces, improved the quality of life and health outcomes for people with spinal cord injuries, mobility issues and other disabilities.

Vicki Keith remains one of the most successful marathon swimmers in the history of the sport, holding 18 world records. After her marathon swimming career, Vicki took on a new challenge. While coaching at Variety Village, in the early 90’s, she found that swimmers with physical disabilities were invited to participate in only 3 meets a year…all of them for disabled athletes only. She immediately started pushing the boundaries, by getting the team invited to able-bodied meets.

Vicki has coached 22 athletes with a disability to the national level in competitive swimming, 5 athletes to the international level in competitive swimming and triathlon and 4 athletes with a disability to world records in marathon swimming. She has been appointed as a member of the Order of Canada.

Bonus Editor’s content: Vicki manages her own blog about coaching on wordpress here.

Clara Hughes is a Canadian cyclist and speed skater who has won multiple Olympic medals in both sports. She is one of the few athletes who have competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympic games.   Hughes is one of only five people to have podium finishes in the Winter and Summer versions of the games, and is the only person ever to have won multiple medals in both.  Hughes is also the only Canadian to have won medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

In 2009, she agreed to become the national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign which is trying to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues. Clara’s story is particularly important, because it reminds us that anyone can suffer from depression, and it is not a sign of weakness. Many people blame themselves and try to work harder to “get over it”. They tell no one and suffer alone, afraid they will be judged. A 2006 study called mental illness the No.1 cause of workplace disability. Hughes encourages people who think that they may be suffering from depression, not to blame themselves and to reach out to resources that are there to help.

Sheldon Kennedy was a Canadian former professional ice hockey player throughout the 1990s. He played for the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames in the NHL.

Kennedy devoted his post hockey career to child abuse prevention and education. Along with his business partner, Wayne McNeil, he owns and operates Respect Group Inc. which provides training to thousands of people empowering people involved in amateur sport and education systems to prevent bullying, harassment, and abuse.

On June 15, 2012 Kennedy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Fraser Valley for his work supporting victims of child abuse and promoting education and awareness of the topic. On June 8, 2015 Kennedy was awarded with an Honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, from the University of Calgary for his extraordinary commitment to violence and abuse prevention programs in Canada.

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