By Rachal Fleury
The traditional gift for a 10-year anniversary is tin or aluminum.
But Canadian visually impaired runner Jason Dunkerley and his guide*, Greg Dailey, plan on celebrating their 10 years as running partners with gold.
The pair is gearing up for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China from September 6-17. They currently hold the Canadian and Parapanamerican records in the T11 800m and 1500m events, and brought home silver medals in the 1500m from the Sydney and Athens Paralympic Games. (The 800m race isn’t run in the Paralympics in the T11 category).
Their 10-year partnership is rare for runner and guide pairings, who Dunkerley says usually end after two or three years.
So what keeps the fire burning for these two?
Their long-distance relationship –Dunkerley lives and trains in Ottawa and Dailey lives and trains in Toronto – a five-hour trip by car.
"It’s definitely not conventional and not what people would typically do," notes Dunkerley.
Dunkerley was born blind due to a genetic condition. He began running in high school in Hamilton, Ontario, and went on to run at the University of Guelph, which has one of the top athletics programs in Canada.
Dailey, who ran at the nearby University of Toronto, was approached to guide after Dunkerley qualified for his first international event and needed a steady, committed partner to work with. The pair had international success right from the get-go, so it didn’t make sense that they stop running together, even when Dunkerley moved to Ottawa after completing his degree.
So, for the last several years, Dunkerley and Dailey have trained separately, getting together every couple of months in the winter and more frequently during a Games year in preparation for the summer track season.
"We pick up where we left off very quickly because we have such a history," says Dunkerley.
For Dailey, the distance has helped him stay inspired.
"Running is much more of a single person sport, but having an outlet that can make it a team sport has really helped to keep me motivated," says Dailey. "It has created new and more challenging goals in this sport for me."
Both Dunkerley and Dailey also credit their success to the Ottawa Lions – where Dunkerley trains – for creating an ideal training atmosphere for Dunkerley.
Beijing and Beyond
The Beijing Paralympic Games will have a special significance for the pair, considering Dunkerley is lucky to be competing at all. In 2005, hewas hit by a car while running along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and suffered a fractured skull and a broken leg. But he has bounced back, and he and Dailey had their best season yet in 2007.
After Beijing, Dunkerley and Dailey will sit down (like they do after every track season) and decide whether they are up for doing it for another year.
"It’s hard to think of stopping," says Dunkerley. "However, I’ve always thought it would be nice to stop when I was at or near my best. I admire the athletes who recognize when they are there and do not hang on too long."
But that discussion is off the radar for the time being as the pair for now has bigger fish to fry. Besides a gold medal, Dunkerley and Dailey have a couple of other major goals in mind.
"I want Jay and I to break the two-minute barrier in the 800m and the four-minute barrier in the 1500m," says Dailey. "This would be a world record!"
And people say long-distance relationships don’t work…
*Some visually impaired runners run with a guide. Both runners hold onto a rope tether as they traverse the track. Runners compete in categories based on their level of vision. T-11 runners have zero vision, T-12 runners have up to 5% vision and T-13 runners have up to 10% vision. T-11 runners run with guides while the T-13 runners race without guides.