A lot of you have probably heard this story by now but in case you haven’t been following the running news, there’s trouble brewing in my fair city (i.e., Ottawa). Two blind Paralympians, Jon and Jason Dunkerley, are being sued by Mimi Lepage for $350, 000 after crashing into her on a Sunday morning run along the Rideau canal. The two men were out for a group run with their guide runners and Ms. Lepage states that the Jon and Jason crashed into her from behind and then fell on top of her, allegedly causing injuries so severe that she has difficulty walking and doing housework. On the other hand, most news article include the fact that a woman by that name did the Run for Reach 10km in April 2010 in 53:58.
As you can imagine, this is stirring up a lot of controversy. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this coverage, especially given how much is still unknown about the accident. I also have a lot of questions about the situation that I would need answered before I could formulate an opinion.
- How fast was the group running? Many news articles make references to how busy the path was the morning of the accident and I can believe it. Part of me wonders if the Paralympians were running too fast for safety relative to the rest of the running traffic that morning.
- In what formation was the group running? According to articles, there were nine runners in the group that included Jon and Jason Dunkerley and most of the group had already passed Ms. Lepage. From what I can tell, they seemed to be running in groups of two or three, which would usually be safe. However, large groups on busy pathways could be a safety hazard.
- Did Mimi Lepage really do the Run for Reach four months later? If she did, this tends to negate her claim that she was severely injured. On the other hand, she could easily have transferred her bib to someone else. Or it could be another woman running with the same name.
- What is the guide’s explanation for the accident? There is no question that the accident did happen: both Dunkerleys have expressed their regret about it. Given that both are unable to perceive any light at all or the movement of a hand at any distance, they rely completely on their guide to keep them (and others) safe. Clearly, the rest of the group had noticed Ms. Lepage that morning and had passed her safely. So what happened with this guide? Was he distracted? Did he think that they had left a safe margin to pass? Unfortunately, he is currently out of the country and unable to clarify the events of that morning from his perspective.
- Would we be talking about this incident if the defendants weren’t blind? A lot of the articles about this have focused on how the Dunkerleys have overcome such long odds and are representing their country. Thought experiment: what if this woman had been hit by two aspiring Olympians instead of Paralympians? My feeling after reading some blog posts and news articles is that there’s a kind of positive discrimination going on against the Dunkerleys (i.e., “How dare this woman sue two blind athletes?”)
What are your thoughts on this issue?