> Overcoming effects of bullying earns Terry Fox medal

Overcoming effects of bullying earns Terry Fox medal

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Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca

May 30, 2008
Deyar Asmaro, 2008 winner of Simon Fraser University’s Terry Fox Gold Medal speaks from experience about school bullying and its impact.

The medal is awarded annually to a student who demonstrates courage in the face of adversity—in Asmaro's case his courageous ability to overcome the effects of bullying.

Now a third-year psychology honour student, Asmaro was an academically successful 15-year-old at a private school who excelled in martial arts. He used to rush to the defence of peers being bullied. However, such action led to bullies targeting and beating him.

“It was difficult for me to get help because the bullies were the most popular kids—those who excelled in sports and school clubs. I think the fact that I was half Iraqi also made me a target.”

The relentless bullying led Asmaro to drop out of school after Grade 10 and his life spiraled further downward. He spent two years living in the wilds and on the street.

Then at 17, Asmaro suddenly turned his life around. “I woke up one morning thinking if I continue on like this I am going to die quickly. I realized I wasn’t living up to my potential and that what had led me to this point was beyond my control—but that if I got away from my environment I could perhaps turn my life around.”

Asmaro enrolled in a military academy in Ontario. Rigorous training and encouragement helped him to earn three promotions and to finish Grade 11 within a year. He came back to Vancouver to finish Grade 12 and go to Capilano College, where he made the dean’s honour list twice.

A passionate desire to understand why bullying led him down the path he traveled ignited Asmaro’s interest in psychology, which he is pursuing as an undergraduate at SFU. A year away from graduation, Asmaro has a 4.11 cumulative grade point average (the maximum is 4.33). He is considering graduate school and has another major goal: He wants to raise awareness about the seriousness of bullying.

“Bullies often don’t fit the popular stereotype of them being gang members or drop outs,” says Asmaro. “Their mainstream popularity can invoke a code of silence in any school. Often bullies are just seeking recognition. Society needs to help young people seek constructive rather than destructive ways of building their self confidence.”

—30— (electronic photo file)
Backgrounder: Overcoming effects of bullying earns Terry Fox medal

Asmaro is a world-class expert in martial arts. He has won a variety of national and international competitions in adult sparring, including a gold medal in the Tiger Balm International Tournament and an appointment to Team Canada in 2005.

In 2007, Asmaro was listed as the number one international sparring competitor (in the Sport Karate Magazine), and in 2008, he is listed as the top male sparring competitor in Canada.

He shares his expertise with the SFU community by offering martial arts classes for students on a volunteer basis through SFU’s Mixed Martial Arts Club. Asmaro committed to contributing to students’ physical fitness through these classes. His classes also promote the value of discipline and self-confidence, and they provide a supportive setting in which to make social connections.

“In terms of academic performance, I would judge Deyar as one of the two or three strongest undergraduate students I have encountered in my almost 20 years at SFU,” says psychology professor Kim Bartholomew. “In short, Deyar is a truly outstanding student and contributing member of the SFU community. He has risen above the challenges he faced as a teenager to become a top athlete and a top student.”

“Deyar is definitely the hardest working student I know and his academic excellence certainly reflects that quality,” says SFU assistant professor of psychology Rebecca Cobb. She has taught Asmaro and enlisted him as an assistant in her lab.

“Deyar has incredible determination to succeed, and without a lot of support he has certainly done so. I think Deyar feels a responsibility to share what he has learned with others who are facing their own challenges, and it brings him a lot of pleasure to see them succeed. I think Deyar’s academic and athletic excellence combined with his contributions to the lives of other students make him a deserving recipient of this award.”