By Dan Plouffe
After setting a pair of personal-bests and winning a pair of Paralympic medals at the same Games for the first time as a 35-year-old at London 2012, Jason Dunkerley said he was like a fine wine that gets better with age.
Five years later – and after contemplating retirement from international competition following his fifth Paralympics in 2016 – Dunkerley, who hits the big 4-0 Aug. 21, returned to the site of his greatest triumph and won a silver medal in the T11 men’s 1,500 metres at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships on July 21.
At his side was a new, younger guide runner, Ottawa’s Jérémie Venne, who stepped in for Josh Karanja, now retired as an athlete. Karanja is now Dunkerley’s coach along with a group of mostly high school and university-aged middle-distance runners with the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club.
“It keeps me young, chasing them,” smiled Dunkerley, who competes in the category for athletes with no vision.
The group has a relaxed but focused atmosphere, and is very supportive, added Dunkerley, who’d intended to retire from international competition after placing 5th in Rio but figured “why not?” when informed by Athletics Canada that times he ran with Karanja last year qualified him for worlds.
At the Canadian Track-and-Field Championships in Ottawa, Dunkerley again said “this is probably it” for him in terms of international competition, but pledged to “keep having fun” after London 2017 and that he’d be “happy to take another stab” at the next worlds.
2 more Lions on para Team Canada
After achieving his goal at nationals to stay “right beside (Victoria runner) Michael (Barber) in the red striped shirt like the Cat in the Hat,” Ottawa Lions distance runner Tommy Des Brisay made his international debut for Canada in London, finishing 8th in the T20 men’s 5,000 m for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Des Brisay, who has autism, says he was very excited to almost make Canada’s Paralympic team in 2016 and feels like, at age 25, he definitely has the potential to make it to the Paralympic Games in the future.
Fellow Lion Larissa Brown also came close to reaching the Rio 2016 Paralympics as a 17-year-old, though she too had to wait for this season to sport the maple leaf internationally for the first time.
“Now I feel ready, and much more confident,” the recent St. Mark Catholic High School grad said after setting a new personal-best time of 13.34 seconds at nationals on her home track.
Alongside 2012 Paralympic guide runner Andrew Heffernan of Ottawa, Brown will compete in the T12 sprint events for athletes with visual impairments at the World Junior Para Athletics Championships Aug. 3-6 in Switzerland.
—with files from Charlotte van Walraven