Evan Dunfee is Canada’s premier race walker. After finishing a dramatic fourth in the Rio Olympics, Dunfee stole the hearts of Canadians for his sportsmanship by not protesting the Japanese appeal whereby he lost a potential bronze medal. Dunfee has devoted his spare time to Kid Sport, a charity that helps underprivileged kids get into organized activities.
Internationally, Dunfee’s palmares is very solid. In 2013, Dunfee received a silver medal at the Jeux de la Francophonie, a bronze in the team event at the Summer Universiade, a gold in the 2015 Pan-am Games, fourth in the 2016 Olympics and another gold at the NACAC Championships.
Dunfee sports walking personal bests of 1:20:13 in the 20K and 3:41:38 in the 50K. In running, Dunfee has impressive personal bests as well. He has run 5k in 15:45, a 10k in 32:30 and a Half Marathon time (after running about 80km in the previous 8 months total) of 1:09:55.
I was very honoured when Evan decided to answer these questions for the blog. Ever since Rio I have been a great fan, and have been interested in his progress, the development of Canadian Race Walkers, his charity work, and much more.
Unfortunately, athletics in Canada are not covered very well. CBC Sports has the occasional article. Canadian Running Magazine and Trackie place emphasis on it, but none of the above really cover race walking. In place of the coverage, can you evaluate your 2018 for us?
I’d say first off that CBC Sports have covered me quite well over the years and have always been willing to do something on me when I’ve asked. Canadian Running as well has done lots on me, and had some of their most viewed articles in the past couple years be race walk related! Finally the Terminal Mile Trackie podcast has had me on numerous times! We’ve been quite lucky to get the coverage we do get, and it is way better than it was when I started in the event.
That said, my 2018 was pretty awful. I was pretty fit down in Australia this year and was ready for a good 20km in February but 12km into the race I tore my hamstring. It was a quick recovery but through off my spring a little bit. I had gotten some decent training in though and thought I was ready for a good race at Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately I really struggled at Commonwealths, and faded shortly after 5km, holding on to finish a very disappointing 8th. After that I had a really good race and walked a quick 10km at the Sun Run (being a road running race, it wasn’t judged) and walked 39:06. With that I thought I was back where I needed to be and A couple weeks later at the World Race Walking Team Championships I put it all out there to try and medal over 50km and I was in the lead group of 4 until about 38km and then my body just quit on me and I faded very hard over the final 12km, finishing 12th. I then took some time off to let my body heal and then slowly build back training in the summer. I managed to come away with the win at the NACAC championships which was a nice treat after such a bad year.
Once again, little is known about race walking in Canada. What is our system like for developing race walkers? What can Athletics Canada do to instil better development?
We have a training group in Vancouver, where we train high school and university aged kids. That is where most of our talent pool is now, moving from Quebec where it used to be. We have strong numbers in BC but we have no top females. It would be awesome to get some sort of small funding to try and entice 2:40-3:00 female marathoner runners to convert to race walking and have a chance of making some national teams! Same with the men, as our international numbers have dwindled with the retirements of Inaki Gomez and Ben Thorne.
You have gained a lot of media attention this year, not necessarily for your racing, but for how you were raising money for Charity. You chose Kids Sport as your charity of choice. Why was that? Where can people go to contribute?
I’ve been a KidSport Ambassador for a couple of years now. They’re an amazing charity with such a simple mission. Get more kids in sport. Super easy to get behind. This year, celebrating their 25th anniversary I wanted to help! And walking 25km for 25 days and doing 25 school talks seemed like a great way to tie it all together! People can go to dunfeewalks.com to find out how to support this great cause!
In order to raise the money, you devoted yourself to walk 25 kilometres each day for 25 days. I followed your journey on Strava and you logged A LOT of kilometres with very little complaining. How did you make it through the 25 days? I can’t even imagine.
Yeah, the mileage was way easier than I thought it would be and I managed to hold a much quicker pace than anticipated. 2:01:40 was my average time. Only a couple of days of rain, and a lot of beautiful days! it was pretty awesome. The 25 school talks have certainly taken more out of me! Mostly emotional. Sharing my story every day, signing over 8000 autograph cards, that has been more exhausting than the walks.
[Author note: 2:01:40 equates to an average of 4:52/km]
As almost everyone knows, unless they lived under a rock during the Rio Olympics, you finished 4th in the 50 kilometre race walk. What has that result done for your career? Do you think your charity campaigns would have been as successful without this result?
That race has defined my career. It opened so many doors, including this ambassadorship with KidSport. I think no matter what had happened in Rio I would have tried to find a way to use my platform to promote sport and well being, my platform would have just been a lot smaller!
Like many Canadian distance athletes, you are sponsored by New Balance, a company that stepped up post-Olympics when it was revealed you had no sponsor. What is the biggest difference that this sponsorship made to your career? What would you suggest to other top Canadian runners and race walkers who are looking for this kind of support, but are unable to find a sponsor?
Yeah, New Balance really stepped up when in December 2016, after months of getting led on by Asics Canada that they were going to re-sign me backed out and left me with no kit sponsor. That really sucks when you are going through a pair of shoes every 4 weeks! New Balance stepping up, well after they had already filled their roster was amazing and I’m hoping to continue to work with them for many years to come. But, Honestly this sponsorship has simply helped keep shoes on my feet.
My Sponsorship with Teck Resources is what has really helped. That sponsorship allows me to focus on training, and not have to work my part time job too often, That means I can use my free time to volunteer and give back, which is amazing! I am very grateful to Teck who have been helping me for many years!
My advice for other athletes looking for sponsorship it is to remember that these companies aren’t charity. They are investing in you because they think you’ll create more value for them then you’ll take up. So make sure you’re creating value. Play to your strengths and be genuinely yourself. And don’t just apply to every company you can. Find companies who align with who you are, those genuine partnerships go much further!
50 kilometres is a long way. I tried to race walk about 500 metres down my street prior to this interview and my shins were on fire. Are your shins just in constant pain? What is your strength routine to combat shin splints or other injuries?
That is usually the first thing people feel when they try race walking but it goes away quite quickly with training. We just don’t use our Tib Ants very much in normal life so it’s a radical change at first. I don’t do any specific Tib Ant strengthening work.
[Author note: tibialis anterior is a muscle in humans that originates in the upper two-thirds of the lateral (outside) surface of the tibia (shin)]
The World Athletics Championships are back in 2019. Tokyo 2020 standards will (hopefully) be set in January. What are your biggest priorities in 2019. Will Kids Sport continue to be a priority?
In 2019 I am planning a peak in late March for a 50km and then again at the end of September for World Champs. I am excited for Doha and I would love to fight for a medal! KidSport will always be important to me, but I won’t be able to actively do these types of fundraisers, but I do have some ideas up my sleeve!
Thanks to Evan again for taking the time to answer my questions. Please consider donating to KidSport at dunfeewalks.com.