Jason Dunkerley - Paralympic Runner

1) What was your first exposure to sports?

Jason Dunkerley (for Web).jpgI was very fortunate to have parents who encouraged me, along with my two brothers, who were also blind, to play outside. Often kids who are blind or visually impaired are protected or held back from being active for fear of getting hurt, but my parents felt it was important for us to have the experience of other kids in our neighbourhood. My brothers and I learned to ride bicycles at a young age and we also adapted our own games, like soccer, using a plastic grocery bag tied around a soccer ball so that you could hear the ball coming towards you. We also attended a school with other blind students where we were encouraged to try a variety of sports with support of teachers, eg, running with a guide, wrestling, swimming and goalball. Running was the sport I grew to love most and with the encouragement of teachers and being in a safe environment to pursue it, I caught the running bug.

2) Why should sports be accessible to everyone?

My old coach used to say that sport done well is a metaphor for life. Sport teaches us real life lessons, like the ability to connect with others as well as physical strength and agility, body awareness, etc, but intangible ones also, like resiliency, discipline, determination, empathy and humility among many others, skills which shape us, lessons which we can turn to throughout our lives. Sport opens doors for us and it empowers us to transcend the limits we might see ourselves as having, or which others assume we have. Accessible sport can offer a gateway for people of all abilities to not only be fitter and healthier, but to learn and grow and to experience a richer, deeper life.

3) What is your favourite Paralympic memory?

My favourite Paralympic memory is probably standing on the podium in the London Olympic Stadium in 2012 with my guide runner Josh after the two of us won silver in the 5000 metre final for T11 athletes who are blind, after leading much of the race and setting a personal best. We had worked so hard for it and the training I had done over the previous year to move up to compete at the 5000 metre distance had transformed me. 2012 was also the first Paralympics were guide runners were awarded medals. It was incredibly fulfilling and meaningful to share that moment together. Running is thought of as an individual sport but when running with a guide runner it becomes truly a team effort.

4) What is it like to represent your country in the world stage?

It’s an amazing experience to wear the Canadian singlet every time – it’s truly a privilege. I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity. It’s challenging, nervewracking because you want to be able to give the best you have every time and nothing less.

5) Do you have any words of advice for our aspiring athletes?

I think it’s important to have fun, to focus on the process of doing things properly in training – good workouts, sleep, nutrition, life balance – and not the outcomes, because truly, events like the Paralympics are the icing on the cake, but the real joy of being an athlete is all the other training and competing where you learn your craft. Involve the right people in what it is you’re trying to do, be it teachers, coaches, family and friends. Be ambitious, tenacious and adaptable. And if something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to go about it differently. In 2011, I switched coaches, took up a new event on the track, with a new guide runner, and ultimately it prolonged my athletic career, so don’t hesitate to think outside the box and look for another way to get to where you’re trying to go.

To learn more about the event, visit the Paralympian Search page.