By Kieran Heffernan
The final paratriathlon event in the world before sporting events were temporarily shelved due to COVID-19 was the ITU World Paratriathlon Series race in Australia, where Ottawa’s Jon Dunkerley was hoping to begin a hot streak to score himself another Paralympic bid.
That didn’t happen, but Dunkerley and guide James Cook had what the former described as a “decent” race.
They finished 7th in the PTVI class race for visually impaired athletes (Dunkerley is totally blind).
“There were positives for sure. We had a pretty significant lead off the bike,” he said. “My running off the bike has always been my issue, and I’m still trying to figure it out. So it’s always disappointing when you lose too many places (during the run).”
In paratriathlon, you can’t afford to have a bad race without seriously impacting your world ranking.
“We never get to compete in races that don’t matter,” Dunkerley said. “You just have to look at it as a training day. I try to look at it as a hard workout. I don’t think about what other people are doing, because I can’t control what they’re doing, I can only control what I’m doing.”
One of the reasons the sport is so competitive may be because it’s so new; it was only introduced to the Paralympics in 2016. Plus, many athletes crossover after retiring from other sports. Dunkerley himself was a Paralympian in 2008 and 2012 and ran in the 100 metre, 200m, and 400m races.
Days after the Devonport race, he travelled to Sarasota for the Pan Am Championships and a World Cup race, only for both to be cancelled. He was sent back to Canada and has been living in Victoria since.
Training for the first couple months of the pandemic was extremely limited for Dunkerley.
He needs a guide to run and swim, and so couldn’t do either until small group workouts were permitted in the middle of June. Before that, the most he could do was use his bike, which he has on a trainer.
Getting back to the level he was previously at hasn’t been a quick affair.
“Right now we’re still not back to full volume. Obviously I’ve seen a dramatic improvement from when I got back in to some running and some swimming, but I’m nowhere close to where I was pre-pandemic,” Dunkerley said. “But the caveat is that my bike fitness is really good because I’ve been cycling a lot.”
“Normally, we’re in the water five days a week. Right now,we’re in the water three days a week and because we’ve been out of the water for such a long time … the fitness isn’t there.”
He also hasn’t had access to a gym until recently.
In order to qualify for the Paralympics, Dunkerley essentially needs to be ranked in the top 10 in the world within the qualification period. Originally this would have ended at the end of June, but the new cut-off date will now be determined once races resume.
“We’re all in limbo right now and until we have a clearer race calendar we’re really at a crossroads,” said Dunkerley, who is currently ranked 15th in the world.
Dunkerley’s financial situation is also “up in the air” for now. He lost his federal funding last year after he was unable to repeat the multiple podium finishes he had in 2017 and 2018. He and Cook started a GoFundMe that allowed them to go to Australia, but he doesn’t feel it’s right to promote it now given the global situation. It is also unlikely he’d get his federal funding back within the next year since that would require actually racing.
Despite these challenges, Dunkerley said he’s committed to following through with his four (now five) year commitment.
“We’re really close at this point so I think we’re on board with seeing it through and putting ourselves in the best position that we can,” he said.