Paralympic running star Jason Dunkerley taking a step back

Canadian Paralympic Committee

August 08, 2018

Jason Dunkerley doesn’t like to use the word ‘retirement’ to describe his current situation. 

Jason Dunkerley running with his guide in Toronto 2015 carrying the Canadian flag

Jason Dunkerley doesn’t like to use the word ‘retirement’ to describe his current situation.

“I’ve stopped running track as part of the national team, but I’m still a runner. I wish there was a better word. I’m taking a step back but running has been part of my life for so long, I know I’m going to keep running. I definitely hope to have a long, healthy relationship with running.”

The five-time Paralympian, who was born blind, knew it was time to start transitioning away from high performance sport when running began to feel more like work. 

“I feel really lucky I’ve had a long career and fortunate I’ve been able to stop at the right time. A lot of people are forced out of it for a lot of different reasons and I was able to choose when was the right time.” 

It was back in high school that Dunkerley began thinking more seriously about the potential of making the Paralympic Games. Attending the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind, he was encouraged to play sports, with running his primary choice. He developed even further as part of the University of Guelph’s track team. 

He competed in his first Paralympic Games at Sydney 2000 at the age of 23, winning a silver medal in the 1500m. It was his first time competing at such a large-scale event and in front of such a vast, loud audience. 

“I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for that, so that was a shock for sure. Even competing in a stadium and you’re used to hearing your guide runner beside you and where everyone is in relation to you, and that was almost taken away from the crowd noise, so logistically it was different. But it was an incredible rollercoaster for sure being at my first Paralympics and it was something I had dreamt about.”  

He ultimately would win five Paralympic medals, three silvers and a bronze, all of which were special in their own way. Sixteen years spanned his first Games to his last, where he just missed the podium at Rio 2016. 

While there are many notable moments, outside of his first medal Dunkerley also highlights his only multi-medal Games at London 2012 as particularly memorable. He and his guide runner Josh Karanja had only been a team for about a year, brought together by his coach Ian Clark. Dunkerley had also overcome an Achilles injury in 2011.  

“Over the course of year we worked really hard and put everything into training and that culminated in coming third in the 1500m and second in the 5000m,” he said. “In the 5000 we went for the win and we nearly pulled it off. But it just felt like we put everything possible into it. And Josh actually made the comment in London that our experiences being on the podium together meant more to him than if he had competed on his own at the Olympics, so that really stuck with me.” 

The 40-year-old isn’t sure exactly what his next goals in life will be, but he knows he wants to stick around the running world in some form.  

“I’m hoping to get involved in coaching with the Ottawa Lions Club, which is the club I’ve been a part of. I know it’ll keep me close to track and the track team and I’m excited about that because I hope that I can help and support the athletes in the way coaches have supported me.”

He also has been successful in his career outside sport, currently working for the Government of Canada in the Innovation, Science and Economic Development department. 

Dunkerley attributes his achievements to so many people along the road, including his coaches in high school and university, his guides, and the national program. And it’s this encouraging experience that he would want aspiring athletes to look for.  

“One of the biggest pieces of advice would be to try and surround yourself with positive people and positive influences. Without that kind of support there’s no way I would have been able to develop my potential. 

“Go for it, don’t be afraid to be ambitious and don’t be afraid to share your goal with other people and bring them onto your team. It’s not a journey you can really do on your own.”

Summing up his nearly 20-year involvement with high performance sport, Dunkerley is effusive. 

“It’s been an incredible journey, and I think as athletes as part of the national team, it’s really a privilege. There are so many people in our sport community who are trying to create the conditions to succeed. 

“At the end of the day, it’s an amazing community. It’s given me so much and I’m really grateful.”

But now? Dunkerley says it’s time to look for more balance in his life. And also, have the chance to go away on vacation and not worry about missing a workout. 

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