Race walking olympic medalist: Evan Dunfee
From the olympics and championships to inspirational talks, Dunfee has done it all
Evan Dunfee started race walking at 10 years old as he wanted to find something he could excel at.
But before then in elementary school, he realized team and ball sports weren’t his strength as he struggled with hand-eye coordination, and oftentimes he would get hit in the face with the ball and break his glasses. He started participating in his school’s popsicle stick run in Grade 3 where teachers would track students’ progress in running distance.
On the first day, he ran for the entire 45 minute lunch break and collected 10 popsicle sticks to hand to his teacher. Dunfee’s teacher was surprised as the other kids collected five or six popsicle sticks. This encouraged him to keep going.
Dunfee kept returning to the field to run laps and saw himself quickly improve, making him start to love the concept of doing a sport independently. Soon after, Dunfee and his brother joined the Kajaks Track & Field Club based in Richmond.
A year after joining, his brother had appendicitis and needed surgery. As he was recovering, his high school coach suggested race walking as a way to let his stitches heal and stay active before returning to running. After getting the hang of it, his brother won a medal in his first race.
“As the younger brother, I had a very much younger brother mentality that I thought, ‘Well, if he can do it, how hard can it be?’” Dunfee says.
The 800 meter race was Dunfee’s first race and he won in just under five minutes.
“I went faster than the time I told the kid who wins all the races normally,” Dunfee says. “I was pretty hooked from there, I saw it as the thing that I could be the best at. Even from that age, I wanted to go to the Olympics.”
And that is exactly what Dunfee did. Dunfee is a Canadian race walker and world medalist who has participated in championships and the olympics. Last year, he won a gold medal for the 10,000 metre walk in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Alabama, is a bronze medalist at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for the Men’s 50km Race Walk, and also placed fourth in the 50km and 10th in the 20km walk at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
His bronze in the Tokyo games is Canada’s third race walking medal in Olympic history, and the first in the 50km race, according to the CBC.
“It really is a dream come true,” he says. “To come across that line, and then achieve that childhood dream of winning a medal, it is really special and hard to put into words.”
To prepare for the Olympics or a championship, Dunfee walks anywhere from 150 to 200 km per week with a mix of low and high intensity workouts.
For his larger training weeks, Dunfee races two marathons a week, which are 42 km each. With the high kilometers, Dunfee goes through a large amount of shoes either training or competing.
A typical pair of shoes lasts him around 600 to 700 km, which is roughly a month, and 400 to 500 when he was sponsored.
“One of the disappointing things that we’re seeing is running [is] becoming so much more expensive with super shoes and all this stuff that is now becoming like ‘Oh you need these to run fast,’” Dunfee says.
“I won my Olympic medal in Tokyo in a pair of $50 shoes which was awesome because it showed that you don’t need that fancy equipment. But the way things are going, nowadays if you want to run fast, you actually do need those $300 pair of shoes, and I hate that.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Dunfee to get into race walking. When he first got into race walking, he received negative comments from people in his high school or strangers on the street.
“When I’m race walking, it’s very obvious. It’s a very unique, silly movement that is eye-catching. I’m very recognizable,” he says, adding that people would often tease him for the way he walked.
Dunfee says it’s important to look back and see how much he has grown since then. Before Dunfee went to the Olympics in 2016, he attended the 2012 London Olympics to watch his teammate participate in one of the races.
“In London, when I was sitting on the sidelines, I was doing [the] sport because I wanted to be the best at something, I was doing it for me. And I was doing it because I wanted to prove myself to those kids that picked on me growing up,” Dunfee says.
“I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I defined success as winning and everything else as failure, and it wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t a good mindset to have.”
When he went to the 2016 Rio Olympics, he worked with Kristen Barnes and was able to change his mindset on how to determine success.
“Winning was obviously an outcome that we work towards, we want to achieve,” he says. “But success was defined by how hard I pushed in pursuit of that goal, and that allowed me to find confidence and allowed me to really grow.”
Defining how he looks at success was one of the most important lessons Dunfee learned in his career. Outside of race walking, he also talks with high school students and works with KidSport BC, an organization that helps children who need financial assistance paying for sports, where he shares his journey while uplifting the community.
He says the most fun aspect about these talks is making connections and hearing stories and the inspirations the kids carry with them.
“It’s amazing to me how much I’ve seen that resonate with the kids I’ve spoken to, that whole idea of how can I build upon the opportunities that I’m lucky enough to have and make sure that I pay it forward and make sure the next generation gets those same or better opportunities,” he says.
While Dunfee says race walking can look “funny,” he wishes more people knew that it’s tough, but also the benefits of walking for everyone not only from the physical perspective, but also mental health.
“For people that think they don’t have time to be active or they’re not fit enough, walking counts,” he says. “You can go [on] a slow walk, hanging out with your friends, listening to an audio book, or walking your dog.”
“What other sport can you modulate your intensity or activity? There’s no one for whom walking can’t be beneficial.”
As Dunfee continues to compete in competitions and enjoy the sport, he loves the community that comes along with it.
“Whatever it is you’re passionate about, setting really big goals, finding that community, and defining yourself not by whether or not you’re achieving it, but by how far you get from where you started. I think that’s how we all thrive and find confidence and happiness in this wacky little life of ours.”