Tony Griffin

It was a wintry evening in early 2007 and Tony Griffin (BScK’08) was watching a documentary about Terry Fox and his attempt to run across Canada after losing a leg to cancer. Tears began to well up in his eyes.

It wasn’t just Fox’s determination that affected the Dalhousie alum so deeply. Griffin was thinking of his father, Jerome, who succumbed to cancer in December 2005. He realized he had not fully come to terms with his father’s death.

From imagination to reality

“I remember looking at a map of Canada on the wall, thinking, ‘Imagine cycling across that,’” says Griffin. “I started thinking I could do it as a fundraiser in my father’s memory. I had never really cycled before, but if someone like Fox could push himself to run across Canada, what was stopping me?”

Tony Griffin

Tony speaking to a crowd gathered in Halifax in June 2007 to celebrate the completion of the Canadian leg of his team’s 7000-km bike ride. (Photo: Nick Pearce)

On May 1, 2007, Griffin answered that question, launching a cycling journey across Canada and his native Ireland. Accompanied by fellow Dalhousie students and roommates Ben Whidden, Matt Bethune, and Rob Book, Griffin raised $650,000 for the Livestrong Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society and Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Along the way, he met Canadians whose lives had been touched by loss. He also met his wife, Kira, in the home stretch of the trek. And his fundraising efforts led to the establishment of the GIVETOLIVE foundation that has since raised more than $2.5-million for charities and diseases around the world.

This ambitious undertaking marked the beginning of another journey for Griffin: one of making a difference. Growing up, he had never given much thought to volunteering; his focus was on hurling, an immensely popular and highly charged outdoor sport where players use a ball and a small wooden stick to score points, similar to lacrosse and hockey.

Self-discovery at Dalhousie

But even as he realized his dream of being an all-star player with County Clare – the four-time all-Ireland champions – Griffin began thinking he could do more to realize his full potential as an athlete and beyond. Interested in the fields of sports psychology and mechanics, he approached his team’s chiropractor – Halifax native and Dalhousie alum Travis McDonough (BScK’94) — for advice.

“He suggested several kinesiology programs at Canadian universities that he thought could help me, including Dalhousie. I visited the campus, fell in love, and enrolled.”

Through Dalhousie’s rigorous program, Griffin began a process of self-examination. “I shed so many layers to get down closer to the essence of who I am. It helped me build confidence in myself and my opinions, and encouraged me to chase opportunities.”

Soar Foundation

Fourth-year students from St. Peter’s College in Ireland who attended a Soar workshop.

Spreading confidence

Griffin would draw on that confidence again in 2012 when he became co-founder and CEO of an innovative youth development initiative called Soar.

Inspired by a similar undertaking in Australia, Soar develops and offers workshops where all Irish youth aged 12 to 18 can explore their dreams, discuss their challenges, and build the self-confidence, empathy and leadership skills to realize their full potential. What is particularly unique about Soar is that it has adopted a peer-to-peer approach with its workshops, engaging young people aged 18-30 to deliver them.

Propelling youth

“This is about creating a dynamic space where youth can truly be themselves, explore their desires and go out and create the life they would like to live,” says Griffin. “We’ve worked with 17,000 youth to date and there’s been huge anecdotal feedback about the impact it has had on their lives. We’ve signed an agreement with the University College Dublin to do a two-year assessment of that impact.”

Tony Griffin

Tony with some of the fourth-year students at St. Peter’s College after the Soar workshop.

Griffin’s goal is to build Soar to the point where it is financially self-sustaining. Meanwhile, he’s giving thought to where his journey of making a difference will take him next. One possibility is launching a program like Soar for adults. But the priority for now is how to impart the lessons he’s learned through his life, his work and Dalhousie to his son, Jerome.

“I think when you have a child it becomes the most important thing in your life. I’d like him to be equipped to go out and create the life that he wants. And I think having that desire to help him find a better life will be good for anything I choose to do.”