No Category selected Great running controversies of this week: The lawsuit against Jon and Jason...

    Great running controversies of this week: The lawsuit against Jon and Jason Dunkerley

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    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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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?

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    Dana’s first attempts at running started at age 15, prompted by the desire to impress a boy. “Thankfully, the boy in question appreciated her other charms and running was quickly abandoned,” she says of her younger self. The habit finally stuck about two years ago, however, and she has since co-founded a two-person running team called “The Fighting Mongooses.” Dana offers great advice in her blogs, such as to think twice about the Toronto Zoo 10k. “A strong whiff of elephant dung is not the reward you’re looking for when you’ve just crested yet another f-ing hill in the freezing cold,” she advises. She also entertains with stories of, um, interesting people she met during races. “There was that guy in the short robe two years ago who invited us back to his house for pancakes after the race…we decided to keep running.” Funny and smart is a winning combo in our books!

    2 COMMENTS

    1. I like your assessment of the big questions – it’s important not to jump to conclusions before the case goes to court, and you’ve done a great job of offering a considered analysis.

      That said, I’m not sure we wouldn’t be talking about this incident if the Dunkerleys weren’t blind (so many negatives in that sentence!). To my mind, the blindness is only relevant in this situation insofar as their guide is now also involved in the case and may assume partial or full responsibility for the accident (depending on his actions on the day).

      I think the story would still have traction in the running world if the Dunkerleys were sighted. I think the real reason for the traction is that they run at an elite level. The collision is almost a literal embodiment of the conflict that some running columnists have established between elite and amateur runners. The crowded running path, and the subsequent collision, are fodder for those who are on the extreme opposites of the debate – both those who argue that elite runners are bogged down by the rise in amateur runners, and those who decry the elite ‘road hogs’ and their ‘snobbery’.

      I don’t think the case can be boiled down to either simple extreme, but I think that the reason it continues to resonate in the running world is that it taps into that very debate – a debate waged by very few, but both sides are quite vocal, and so the story continues.

      It will be very interesting to see how both the case and the story evolve.

    2. I hope for her sake that the bib for that race was recycled to someone else, however the fact that it has been written in some articles as FACT has set off a lot of nasty comments. I don’t agree with the law suit, but I do believe in having all the FACTS before I condemn someone. When you use a multi-use path you expect stuff to happen, I would not want to become bankrupt (the lawyers fees, ironically, would do that) because I made a dumb mistake, or stumbled causing a mishap with someone else getting injured. I have had 4 injuries in my 29 years of commuting by bike in this wonderful city, caused by 3 other inexperienced cyclist and one oblivious driver. 2 times I was hit from behind (by cyclists). Even so it was an accident, let it go and get on with healing. Will this money or bankrupting these guys really fix things? I think not. Your a high up Gov’t lawyer you probably make 6 figures and get by more than just fine. Time to move on.

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