Blind runner takes a stand

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

Canadian blind runner Jason Dunkerley will boycott a prestigious awards gala in Toronto next month because his guide runner -- with whom he has won three Paralympic medals -- is not considered an athlete.

The Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons is a private organization that hosts a yearly gala for people with physical disabilities. The Annual Great Valentine Gala, Feb. 14 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, will host 700 to 800 guests and honour 48 Paralympic medallists by providing them with travel, accommodation and cash awards.

But Dunkerley's running guide of 10 years, Greg Dailey, is ineligible for all of that. He wasn't even invited to the dinner until Dunkerley asked. Then, two tickets were made available for Dailey and his wife. But that's it.

"I'm at a point where I can no longer accept the lack of acknowledgment of Greg's contribution to our team and our shared success," Dunkerley said. "For years, Greg has faced the humiliation of bringing me to the medal podium, only to watch me be presented with a medal and receive no medal of his own. This award is in large part because of him facilitating my running."

At the Beijing Paralympics, the duo raced to a bronze medal in the 1,500 metres in 4:12.53. Dunkerley then placed his medal around Dailey's neck and they stood together on the podium.

Dunkerley, who grew up in Hamilton, and Dailey, an Oakville teacher, both receive $1,500 in monthly funding from Sport Canada for top international athletes, and also are subject to random drug testing.

But Canada is light years ahead of the international Paralympic movement in treating guide runners as athletes. In Beijing, Dailey recalled, he was "blown away" to read his status on his accreditation card said "non-competing athlete."

"I remember looking at it, because you're stressed, and I said: 'I wish I was a non-competing athlete!' " Dailey chuckled. "It's a little bit bizarre that's how it's looked at and it's not understood."

The two run side-by-side with Dailey on the inside, their hands joined by a tether to keep in sync. While they plan their race strategy meticulously in advance, Dunkerley trusts Dailey to make tactical decisions on the spur of the moment.

Said Dunkerley: "Greg trains as hard as I do, and in fact, he needs to be even fitter to run with me and negotiate a field of other runners at near top speed."

In other blind sports that use guides, such as cross-country skiing and tandem bicycling, guides receive medals. Running is the only one that doesn't. Dunkerley believes the foundation can make a statement by treating the teammates equally. But Vim Kochar, who created the foundation and the gala, said that because Dailey is not a medal-winner, he is not eligible for all the same perks -- and they can't change the rules.

"Our foundation has done a terrific job in promoting sports for the physically disabled in the last 25 years and I wish Jason would have little more patience because the world will not change overnight," Kochar said. "On the other hand, I admire his belief and we will help him work towards achieving it. We are going to go to the International Paralympic Committee and ask them to recognize guides as medal winners."

As for Dailey, he feels a bit awkward because he doesn't do this for material gain.

"It's the perception," Dailey said. "I'm going to support [Jason] on whatever he wants to do. He's now at a stage in his career where he wants to change some things."

At the gala, Paralympic medallists will receive cash awards: $1,200 for gold, $800 for silver and $500 for bronze, thanks to a donation of $56,600 from Scotiabank.

Asked whether the foundation would offer a flight and accommodation to Dailey if he lived outside the GTA, Kochur said: "We would give it consideration for sure, but he lives in Toronto so that question does not arise."


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