My event, race walking, exists on the fringes of athletics as a weird, misunderstood and funny-looking spectacle. My passion for it began at age 10. As a weird, misunderstood and funny-looking spectacle myself, I’d like to say I had a natural affinity towards race walking, but really I just wanted to be good at something.
My dream of competing at the Olympic Games actually predates my first quick, hip-swiveling steps. It was the “What do you want to do when you grow up?” assignment in grade 3 that started it off. “I want to compete at the Olympic Games,” I wrote. One problem: I wasn’t very good at sports. As the shortest kid in the class, with curly red hair and thick round glasses, I was the quintessential bullying target, but I was determined to prove the bullies wrong by being the best at something.
I tried running and, realized I was good at it because I could go for a long time without having to walk. Soon afterwards I tried race walking, won my first race, and knew I’d found my thing. I followed that ‘thing’ all the way through to the 2016 Olympics, where I competed for Canada in the 20K and 50K race walk.
Throughout this journey, sport has allowed me to grow, gain confidence and find my voice (a voice that holds many opinions, but none so resolutely that they aren’t open to change). I have been lucky enough to experience firsthand the power that athletics, and sport more broadly, has to transform a life. Because of this, I am a huge fan of both the elite and grassroots ends of the athletics spectrum.
More than anything, sport has given me a sense of community–a safe place where I feel I belong, am included, and am valued. For many years I stood adjacent to the running community, considered similar but different, included but at arm’s length. More recently, as my voice and story have resonated more with the wider running community, I’ve been welcomed with open arms.
Today, I’m no longer a misunderstood kid lacking in confidence, but an elite athlete aspiring to win Olympic medals and a deeply passionate fan of our sport and those who compete in it. As a race walker, I also have a unique perspective on the running community, and can offer insight into this world while sharing inspiring stories from the wacky world of walking. Knowing what I think I can offer is one thing, but I also want to know who’s listening. Let me know what you’d like to read about by connecting with me on social media @evandunfee or by leaving a comment below.
Evan Dunfee is a Canadian Olympic race walker and regular digital contributor. The 2015 Pan-American Games Champion recently walked 25K a day for 25 days, while speaking to 25 local schools to raise money for the charity KidSport BC, which provides kids the opportunity to experience sport. Learn more at www.dunfeewalks.com.