HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Keegan Gaunt is living an intriguing double life as a runner. She competes for the University of Guelph track team, but her declining vision has recently classified her as a para runner.
Gaunt, 21, has Stargardt Disease, which attacked her central vision five years ago and has left her with blind spots in her sight. Its progression has been gradual since she was 16. Young adults can inherit it from a parent.
Robbi Weldon, who is Gaunt’s mother, was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease as a teenager and is now legally blind. But Weldon, who loved sports in her youth, rediscovered sports as an adult and competed in four Paralympic Games.
Gaunt wants to follow her mother’s lead, but not in cross-country skiing or cycling, where Weldon won a 2012 Paralympic gold medal in the tandem road race with guide and former Canadian Olympian Lyne Bessette.
Athletics is the main focus for Gaunt, who took a big stride in hoping to qualify for her first Paralympic Games team for Canada at last weekend’s Athletics Canada track and field championships and Olympic trials in Montreal.
Paced by Vancouver’s Jenna Melanson, Gaunt was the only runner in the women’s T13-class 1,500 metres and she broke the long-standing national record with a time of 4:57.54. The old mark was set by Ottawa’s Norah Good at 5:16.20 in 1984.
That time places her seventh in the International Paralympic Committee world rankings. But Gaunt is hoping to run faster in the coming weeks to move up the list and help her chances of earning a Team Canada Paralympic berth.
“It (team selection) is pretty tricky. It’s based on world rankings. There are six spots for (Canadian) women in all track and field (events),” said Gaunt, adding the six highest-ranked athletes will make the grade.
“It’s not my personal-best (time), but given it’s my first race in a while and coming off an injury, I’m happy to get that time under my belt. But I’ll bring it down.”
Gaunt, who competes for and sits on the Guelph-based Royal City Athletics Club’s board of directors as the athlete representative, recently recovered from a left tibia stress fracture. She only had two track workouts before her first race.
A confident Gaunt followed her plan to stay with Melanson, who pulled off to the side of the track for the final 100 metres.
“I was very excited, given I hadn’t raced in 1 1/2 years and I was back on track to see where my fitness was,” she said.
Weldon, who represented Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Paralympics and the 2012 and 2016 Summer Paralympics, retired from competitive para cycling in 2020 at age 45. But Gaunt hopes to keep the family Paralympic streak alive.
“Both of my parents were visually impacted,” added Gaunt, who attended Merivale High School and raced for the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club. “My mom is a four-time Paralympian and I have been exposed to that world.
“My mom had a big impact on me. I went to the London 2012 Paralympics and was able to watch her win the gold medal. It was a big moment.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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