Coming Out of the Starting Blocks by Jon Dunkerley

Jon Dunkerley (on left) & Guide Coming out of the starting blocks at a track race

I am a blind runner competing in a site classification reserved for those athletes with no, or very little site, thus I require a guide runner to help me navigate the track. This can pose some very unique challenges for sure, but when mastered, I’ve been told there is nothing sweeter to watch…

Yup, I am a blind 400meter runner and in just two short weeks, I’ll be jetting off to the UK to prepare to represent Canada in the Paralympic games, beginning in London on August 29th.

Competing as a blind sprinter comes with it, a host of unique challenges that when mastered at the elite level, can result in some ridiculously fast times being run. One of ‘said’ challenges that needs to be conquered before one can even consider running at a world class level is mastering the start. The start is the first component to a sprint race, and is hard enough to execute on your own, never mind tethered to a guide runner. Yeah I run with a guide runner, so not only do I have to be on the ball, but so does he.

As a blind person, it has taken me a very long time mastering the start. The start for a sprinter is one of the most technical feats of any athletic event and as a blind person who can not learn visually, this poses a unique situation. If I can not see what I am supposed to be doing, then how the heck do I do it? The same way we as blind people do anything: we freaken find another way of doing the same thing. There is more than one way to skin a cat, or in my case, more than one way to figure out how to come out of starting blocks tethered at the wrist.

When the gun goes off, sprinters come out of blocks as fast as they can, putting to use all those hours of work in the gym to power themselves up to speed as fast as humanly possible. Ideally, a good starter will propel out of blocks at a 45 degree angle to the track, and drive their legs like pistons, taking advantage of a powerful arm swing, reducing the angle at which they are at in relation to the track with every stride they take until they are upright approximately 30m down the track. For a sighted sprinter, learning this skill visually is much easier than it is for a blind sprinter thus I found my own way to figure it out.

I will not stop trying to figure things out, especially if what I am trying to master will have a positive impact on my performance so when it came to figuring out how to fire out of blocks, I was deffo up for a little research. To make a long story short, oddly enough I was able to figure out one of the most complex components to sprinting very easily, thanks to a great article that I came across written by one of the most prominent sprint coaches in history, who compared driving out of starting blocks to running up a flight of stairs two or three at a time! This, being the most simple explanation that I had ever came across sounded silly to me, but within two weeks of incorporating the idea into my own training, I was beating team mates out of blocks and my times have dropped dramatically as a result.

Sometimes it is the simple answer that is the right answer and I think as blind people we often overcomplicate things. The thought of failure is one huge obstacle that many blind people do not even comprehend taking on and it is those of us that do, that bask in the joy of overcoming previous hurdles that when overcome, do not seem like hurdles at all. To compete at the international level, I needed to figure out how to achieve a world class start and now that I’ve done that, the world is my oyster! Life is too short to let the thought of failure hold you back, so do not let it!

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