By Dan Plouffe
With his sights set squarely on the London 2012 Paralympic Games – plus a little pit stop in Guadalajara, Mexico this November for the Parapan American Games – Ottawa’s Jason Dunkerley was recently buoyed by a new personal best time set at the Canada Army Run on Sept. 18.
Guided by Hillcrest High School grad Mike Woods, Dunkerley, who is visually impaired, finished the Army Run 5k race in fourth place overall up against able-bodied athletes in 16 minutes, 23.2 seconds – just under his previous 16:25 PB.
“Right from the start, I kind of felt like I was on the edge, but it was exciting because we were right out at the front and leading for a while and kind of stretching it out a little bit,” Dunkerley recounts. “Then it caught up to me a bit and I started to struggle a little, but Mike was motivating me to keep going, so I just tried to hang on to him.”
The 34-year-old was pleased to set the new personal record, but what he found most encouraging was that further improvement isn’t too far away.
“I know I can go faster with a little more 5k-related training, which I’m looking forward to doing throughout the fall,” explains Dunkerley. “It’s just about maintaining the pace a little longer, and that’s just fitness. I’ve got people who can push me to it. I had Mike today, and I’ve got Josh also.”
Woods was subbing for Dunkerley’s regular guide, Josh Karanja, who raced the Army Run half-marathon and won the event by almost two full minutes in 1:08:21.9.
“I was excited for him,” says Woods, a first-time guide who says he hadn’t been that nervous for a race in a long time. “I made some mistakes on the run. I cut him off a bit at one point. But it was an awesome experience. It was really fun.”
It was the first time either athlete competed in the Army Run, and the atmosphere was one they enjoyed.
“It was really encouraging having people cheering all along the race course, and you know you’ve got people along for the ride,” Dunkerley says. “The Army Run is a great cause too. Our military is a very humble group of people. I really look up to what they’re doing for us.”
Dunkerley’s participation in the event came about when he met an Army Run organizer at the Ottawa Race Weekend expo and determined it would be a great opportunity for his Achilles Ottawa team – a group that encourages athletes with a visual impairment to pursue their running goals by helping to connect them to guide runners.
“I thought it was more meaningful when you can share it with a group,” Dunkerley adds.
Dunkerley’s Army Run performance was about one minute off the gold medal-winning time – on a track – for his T11 class in the 5k at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
Dunkerley, along with Karanja, will compete in the Parapanamerican Games Nov. 19-27 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
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