Swimming has given Tammy Cunnington another chance at competing at the Paralympics.
The 39-year-old paraplegic switched from triathlon to swimming on the recommendation of her coach. Last December she entered her first swim meet.
Cunnington faced a steep learning curve. She went from swimming 750 meters in triathlon to a 50-meter race.
“The start matters more, the finish matters more,” said the Red Deer, Alta., native. “And all the whistles and the parts that go along with the start.’’
Cunnington was a rookie in the pool but a veteran when it came to training and conditioning.
“I had the knowledge of myself and my body and mind already in place from other sports,” she said. “It was still easier than starting fresh.”
Cunnington was six years old when she was struck by a propeller after a collision between two airplanes during an air show in Ponoka, Alta.
“I remember being there and I remember being on the ground,” she said. “I don’t remember much in between.”
The accident left her with muscle and nerve damage through her hips and legs. She has full use of her right arm plus her core and shoulders.
Growing up, Cunnington continued to play sports. She was a member of the national wheelchair basketball team and still enjoys cycling, paddle boarding and alpine sit-skiing.
Having that foundation helped Cunnington make the transition to competitive swimming, said Craig McCord, the national Para-swimming coach.
“Her physical literacy as an athlete is pretty solid,” said McCord. “She had pretty good basics.”
She swam seven events at the Speedo Can Am Swimming Championships in April to earn herself a spot on the teams that competed at the recent IPC Swimming World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, and the upcoming the Toronto Parapan Am Games.
McCord said her experience at the world championships will reap dividends at the Parapans.
“The big payoff is going to be in Toronto,” he said. “She has gained so much experience.”