Evan Dunfee began race walking when he was about 10 years old because he wanted to be the best at something. Twenty years later, he crossed the finish line at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, with a record-breaking gold medal.
The two-time Olympian came into that 10-kilometre race on Aug. 7 after finishing sixth in the World Athletic Championships’ 35-kilometre event in Eugene, Ore., a few weeks earlier. In Birmingham, he was sitting snuggly in second place heading into the last lap around the track before pulling ahead of his Australian competitor, winning by more than 50 metres with a time of 38 minutes 36.67 seconds.
In a recent interview, the Richmond, B.C., native said he was “kind of shocked” when he saw his result, which broke the Commonwealth Games and Canadian records.
The race “just erased all these notions that I had of what I could do and what I was capable of and what kind of athlete I was,” he said.
The Commonwealth Games win followed a career of other achievements for Mr. Dunfee, including an Olympic bronze medal and nine national championships, as well as Pan American and North American Central American and Caribbean, or NACAC, championship titles – setting national records along the way. More recently, on Aug. 20, the race walker won the silver medal at the NACAC championships in the Bahamas to close out his 2022 season.
Now entering what he describes as the “twilight” of his career in athletics, the 31-year-old is hoping to start a new one in politics. He plans to run for a Richmond City Council seat in this October’s election.
Mr. Dunfee remembers not being very good at sports growing up. He was about 10 years old when his older brother, Adam, picked up race walking as a way to train after getting his appendix removed. Mr. Dunfee watched his brother and thought, “How hard can that be?”
Coach Gerry Dragomir noticed the young boy’s talent as he tagged along to his older brother’s practices with the Richmond Kajaks Track and Field Club.
“He was way better than his brother and he was five years younger and so we went, ‘You know what, this looks like somebody we could work with and would have some potential,’ and turned out we were right,” said Mr. Dragomir, who has now been coaching Mr. Dunfee for two decades.
The race walk is a unique track-and-field event. It has two rules: Athletes must have one foot on the ground at all times, and they must have a straight leg from the time their front foot touches the ground. Judges ensure the walkers follow these rules, with violations triggering warnings or disqualifications.
Mr. Dunfee holds the Canadian record in the 50-kilometre event with a time of 3 hours 41 minutes 38 seconds, which he set at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, finishing fourth. After being so close to the podium, Mr. Dunfee’s bronze medal win at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is his career highlight.
“It was like this huge exultation of relief and jubilation, of 20 years of working toward this one thing that just kind of all came out all at once and it was incredibly emotional,” Mr. Dunfee said.
Mr. Dunfee’s Commonwealth Games gold-medal win, in comparison, felt almost “cheeky.” He prefers the longer 50-kilometre races and felt he wasn’t as strong at shorter distances, but the first-place medal forced him to admit he was wrong.
Off the track, he secured a sponsorship last year with Kraft Heinz Canada, which featured him on a Kraft Dinner television commercial during the Tokyo Olympics. After winning his Olympic bronze medal, Kraft made a box with Mr. Dunfee’s face that was raffled off to raise money for KidSport BC, an organization for which he is an ambassador. Kraft matched the donations made off the raffle for a total of $20,000 and donated tens of thousands of boxes of Kraft Dinner in Mr. Dunfee’s name to the Richmond Food Bank.
Mr. Dunfee has also been outspoken about doping in sport after a string of revelations about Russian athletes cheating in track and field, particularly in race walking. He led an online campaign in 2015 to ban race-walking coach Viktor Chegin, using the hashtag #banchegin; Mr. Chegin was barred from participating in international sport for 25 years in 2016. He also accused a Russian race walker of competing in 2014 despite a two-year ban, using photos and information about the model of shoes she was wearing in a post on his blog to prompt World Athletics to investigate.
Mr. Dunfee’s training, which involves him walking around his neighbourhood every day, has given him a unique perspective of his hometown of Richmond, a city of about 210,000 people south of Vancouver. He says the connection he has with his community inspired him to consider a career in civic politics. And now that this summer competition season has come to a close, Mr. Dunfee plans to focus more on his city-council campaign this fall and on the direct impact he could have on his city.
“I’ve walked Richmond more than anybody else and you see the city differently at 12 kilometres an hour than you do in a car at 40 kilometres an hour,” Mr. Dunfee said.
During the lockdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Dunfee found himself watching livestreams of public city-council meetings on YouTube. He became interested in local land-use policy and the decision-making process for his own city.
He announced his plans to run for a city-council seat late last year. British Columbia is among the few places in Canada with political parties at the municipal level, but he plans to run as an independent. He doesn’t have a full platform yet, but he said his campaign will focus on housing, climate resiliency and active transportation, which he said are all intertwined.
“They are the things that most readily stick out to me as I walk around the city as areas where Richmond has incredible untapped potential.”
If he is elected, he hopes to balance his city-council workload with his training for the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest next summer and the Olympic Games in Paris the following year, where he hopes to close out his career with a top-eight performance, or even another Olympic medal.
“I’m definitely at that point in my career where I’m at peace with knowing that I’m transitioning into the next stage of my life,” Mr. Dunfee said. “But that said, I still have huge aspirations on the track.”
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