Cunnington weighs future after disappointing Paralympics

Red Deer swimmer Tammy Cunnington has a big decision to make now that she’s back from the Paralympics

Red Deer swimmer Tammy Cunnington has a big decision to make now that she’s back from the Paralympic Games in Brazil.

“First I want to take some time off to rest and recover,” said the athlete, who returned to Red Deer from South America last weekend. “I want some mornings without the alarm clock, where I can just get up and have a cup of coffee and read a magazine…”

Then, Cunnington will consider whether to retire from swimming and Paralypmic competition, or continue setting new goals for her competitive drive and athletic skills.

At age 40, she’s not considered too old for Paralympic sports. “There are still a lot of swimmers who are older than me. I know I have definitely not reached my full potential in swimming. I know I can still improve and get faster,” said Cunnington, who’s originally from Ponoka.

However, she would have to find another coach, since Mandi Smith, of Red Deer’s Catalina Swim Club, recently moved to Vancouver.

And Cunnington’s performance in Rio was a personal disappointment. After coming down with an ear infection and bronchitis-like chest illness as the games began, Cunnington was unable to meet her aims in three of the four events.

Although she broke world records for the 50-metre butterfly stroke in December and April, she did not meet her personal best time for the event in Rio. She also missed personal bests in the 150-metre individual medley and 50-metre breast stroke.

Cunnington did set a new personal best time — and a Canadian record — in the 50-metre freestyle competition. “I came in 10th or 11th… I was feeling a bit better by then,” recalled the athlete, who’d only been focused on swimming at the Rio Paralympics since switching from the triathlon two years ago.

Although Cunnington, a paraplegic athlete who uses a wheelchair, still has a croaky voice, she has great memories of bonding with other competitors in Rio de Janeiro. “It was lovely scenery. The village was surrounded by mountains and we were on a high floor, so we could see the ocean.

“The people there were super supportive,” added Cunnington, who recalled full stadiums of cheering fans — including eight friends and family members who came down from Alberta to root for her.

Cunnington and her husband, who co-own a Red Deer construction company, stayed in Brazil for an extra week to do some sightseeing.

Looking back, she said, “I have to reflect on the whole journey,” not just her scores at the Paralympic Games. There were so many hours of training with her coach in a Red Deer pool, where “it was always about the clock. Always wanting the fastest time when I hit the wall…

“It’s got to be about a lot more than just those 10 days in Rio.”

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate

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