Swimmer Tammy Cunnington works on her backstroke during training at the Michener Centre pool Friday.

Swimmer Tammy Cunnington works on her backstroke during training at the Michener Centre pool Friday.

Para-triathlete aims for world championships

Do not doubt Tammy Cunnington.

Do not doubt Tammy Cunnington.

The 36-year-old Red Deer para-triathlete has her sights set on competing in the 2013 world triathlon championship in London, England. If her success in qualifying events matches her massive measure of human spirit, she’ll be there.

Cunnington was just six years old when she was struck by an airplane at an air show in Ponoka in April 1982, rendering her a paraplegic. She has the full use of her right arm, as well as her core and shoulders.

A figure skater prior to the accident, she went on to play wheelchair basketball at a national level and began her love affair with triathlon about 10 years ago.

“I’m pretty motivated and disciplined. I kind of go after things that are in my mind,” she said.

Para-triathletes use a hand cycle for the cycling portion of triathlon and a wheelchair for the run portion. Cunnington trains with Catalina Swim Club coach Mandi Smith at the Michener Aquatic Centre pool and works out with her cycle and chair during the summer and fall.

She also weight trains at One-To-1 Fitness and in the winter, has her bike on an indoor trainer.

And now she’s intent on entering a series of qualifying events next summer in hopes of earning a spot in next year’s world championship.

Since taking up the sport, Cunnington has competed mostly against participants with a so-called advantage.

“I haven’t competed internationally,” she said, explaining that para-triathlon has only recently become a competition outside of Canada.

“I’ve been pretty much doing events in Alberta. Currently there are not than many wheelchair athletes competing in triathlon, so I’ve just been racing in able-bodied events,” she added. “In the Woody’s Sprint Triathlon in June, 55 people finished behind me.”

The 2013 world triathlon championship will be staged in September and Cunnington isn’t looking past that despite the fact that triathlon — for the first time ever — will be part of the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“International para-triathlon has just kind of taken a boost the last couple of years with more people getting involved,” said Cunnington, who is appreciative of Smith’s aid and her own sponsors — One-To-1 Fitness and Weber Physiotherapy.

“My husband and I talked about it quite a bit and decided that I would focus on this. We’ll give it a go and see what happens.”

For now, Cunnington is focusing on the world championship qualifying races.

“I’ll continue to train for those events. My training is in three phases — base, speed and strength,” she said.

Clearly, Cunnington has not allowed her physical limitations to hold her back. She has been an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation for the past 10 years and is an inspirational speaker.

“I believe in finding something you love and really spending your time and efforts doing it,” she said.

“One of my favourite quotes is ‘Either you suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret.’ ”