HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
As a high-performance athlete, Evan Dunfee certainly knows how to talk the talk and walk the walk.
Simply look at the resume of Canada’s greatest race walker for the proof: Bronze medals at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games last August and the 2019 world championships in the now-defunct 50-kilometre race, and a gold medal at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games over 20 kilometres.
But can he still be successful using a similar recipe in a totally different field of competition? He’ll know by the evening of Oct. 15.
Dunfee, who is aiming for memorable results at this summer’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, has thrown his race-walking hat into the political ring. In December, he announced he will be seeking one of the eight seats as a city councillor in Richmond, B.C.
With the election more than five months away, he is building his platform so he can talk the talk. And he already knows how to walk the walk as he’ll lower his speed to travel through his neighbourhood and engage the voters.
“I’ve been lucky enough to walk all over this city at 13 kilometres an hour rather than 50 kilometres an hour (to get a meaningful look at the city of 216,000),” Dunfee said in a phone interview this week.
Dunfee is following the footsteps of his father Don, who ran for Richmond city council more than 20 years ago. While his father didn’t win a council seat, it was 10-year-old Evan’s raw introduction to politics.
Dunfee remembers his father giving him a handful of hooked campaign flyers to attach to the front-door handles on people’s houses. He took the flyers, got out of sight of his dad, tossed them into a garbage bin and went to play with his friends.
“I guess it was an act of civil disobedience,” said a slightly embarrassed Dunfee, who would like to put his campaign flyer in everyone’s hand this time rather than see them in the garbage can.
Dunfee is taking a break from training and political planning this weekend as he’s in Ottawa for the three-day Athletics Ontario Race Walking 2022 Summit.
Carrying his Olympic bronze medal everywhere he goes, Dunfee will be a keynote speaker, talk about his journey in track and field’s rarely viewed discipline and use the summit as an opportunity to introduce the event to young athletes and coaches.
While Dunfee is seen as an elite race walker in international circles, he’s also a champion for the discipline and exercise walking in general. He knows and promotes the value of walking for people’s all-around health and would like to see it added to more and more domestic competition schedules.
Last week, he spent two days at a high school track and field meet in Richmond playing a variety of roles. Unlike Ontario and most other provinces, the Richmond high school meet included race walking as part of its competitive schedule.
High school student/athletes in British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta are familiar with race walking as much as the sprints, hurdles, jumping and throwing events. Dunfee would like to see race walking become a part of local and provincial high school schedules across Canada.
“It’s not surprising the top race walkers come out of B.C.,” he said. “We all got started at the high-school level or competed at the high-school level. You need that opportunity and competitive step to get people involved.”
By introducing race walking to high school students, it’s another avenue for them to get involved in sport and help their team earn valuable competition points. Dunfee also has seen the value of teaching the basics of race walking to athletes in another sport.
One year, he was asked to do a team building exercise with the Richmond Sockeyes Junior B hockey team.
“What do I say to 15- to 18-year-old hockey players?” he wondered. “I told them we’re going to try something new and you’re all going to suck at it. We were going out to have fun, laugh at each other and see who has the best race-walking technique.”
Later that year, one of the hockey players recognized Dunfee and approached him.
“They (players) came together as a group. I had one guy later in the summer say that it was one of the most fun things the team did,” he said.
Dunfee knows all too well about the comings and goings of the race-walking discipline and is fighting to make it stronger.
“Race walking has been out of the Canada Summer Games for a couple of decades,” he added. “That’s an avenue, but there’s no opportunity to compete.”
He competed in his first Commonwealth Games in 2010 in New Delhi (finishing sixth over 20 kilometres), but race walking wasn’t on track and field’s competitive schedule for the 2014 Glasgow Games, when he was ranked No. 1 in the Commonwealth. At the 2018 Games in Gold Coast, Australia, he was eighth in the 20-kilometre race.
And when he won his Olympic bronze medal with a superb finishing kick, it signalled the finale of the 50-kilometre marathon. The new marathon distance is 35 kilometres.
Getting his head around the passing of the 50-kilometre race, some upper hamstring injuries and his busy post-Olympic schedule has had some effect on his motivation and training this season.
But at the recent world team race walking championships, he placed seventh in his first 35-kilometre race. If he knew before the race he’d place seventh in the field of 65 athletes, he would have classified that performance as ‘fantastic.’ But after actually finishing seventh, he reflected and figured he “should have done better.”
“The 50K is now obsolete,” he said sadly. “For me, the real struggle is to find motivation, get over injuries and back to training.
“(Losing the 50 km race) is heartbreaking. That’s part of the struggle. I haven’t properly processed the loss of the 50K. We knew it was coming. But I did not take time to grieve. It’s the end of a chapter and the opening of a new chapter.
“It’s an event I will forever shout about from the rooftops.”
If he does, people will hear his race-walking message and maybe his ability to talk the talk will allow new athletes to learn to walk the walk.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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