TORONTO – Triathlon is known as an event with three sports in one. However, there is a fourth element athletes must master – and in this case, an athlete and his guide.
That is the transition, when the athlete switches between swimming and cycling then cycling and running.
For Jon Dunkerley, who is completely blind and competes in the visually impaired category, and his guide James Cook that transition is the most challenging aspect of the sport at the technical level.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot to think about in a very short period of time,” said the Victoria-based Cook, in his third season guiding Dunkerley. “The transitions can really make or break someone’s race. We have to be organized and we have to have a flow as a team.”
Last season Dunkerley and Cook won three medals in international competition including a victory at the World Cup held in Magog, Que. So far in 2019, they’ve placed fourth at the American Championships and eighth at the opening stop on the Para triathlon Series.
“James and I have a lot of common,” said Ottawa’s Dunkerley, a two-time Paralympian (2008 and 2012) in middle distance running. “We are both very driven and motivated with similar goals. We both want to be the best.”
Cook is a professional Ironman triathlete and continues to enter events. However, his partnership with Dunkerley is the main focus especially with the Paralympic Games just a year away.
“Winning gold in Tokyo 2020 is the top priority,” Cook said. “Initially I saw my role as a guide as an opportunity to give back because sport can be quite a selfish profession. Now two years into it I realize there’s so much more to it.
“It’s become my dream and goal as well. The idea of being the best in the world is something cooler now because we are a team.”
Dunkerley, 38, initially retired from competitive sport in 2015 and despite some early setbacks when he started triathlon a year later, he kept at it.
‘’My first triathlon in 2016 didn’t go very well,’’ said Dunkerley. ‘’I knew if I could train a little bit, I could do better. So that’s where it began. I got more serious, attended a camp in Victoria and it basically just snowballed from there. That’s where I decided to dedicate myself to triathlon training and moved to Victoria in 2017.’’
Dedication has been the key to Dunkerley’s success.
“Going from a power speed sport to an endurance sport has been challenging,” he said. “The cycling was new for me and I was really bad. We did some lap testing at a camp and I was mortified with my times. Still
I knew I could do better. When you start something new you usually have a lot of progress at the beginning and that’s what happened to me and it kept me going.”
As a guide, Cook must always be one step ahead of his athlete. That’s not getting any easier.
“If I slack off one minute on my own training, Jon is going to catch me because he is working hard and coming up very fast.”