Canadian swimmer Tammy Cunnington competes in the women’s 50m free at the Olympic Aquatics Centre during the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Photo by Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee

Ponoka paralympian focused on a new challenge

Tammy Cunnington set to compete at Para-Pan Pacific event in Australia

It’s been a long two years for a Ponoka native paralympian, but things might be turning around.

Tammy Cunnington, who competed in four swimming events at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, is hoping to begin a new chapter this week at the Para Pan Pacific Swimming Championship in Brisbane, Australia.

“For me, it’s special because I’ve been inconsistent the last two seasons and really did not plan or expect to qualify for this team this year,” Cunnington said in an interview from Australia.

“The biggest hurdle I’m facing is putting the races from this season behind me and starting fresh.”

She admitted her results for much of the last two years haven’t been up to her usual standards, which is why she was so surprised to make the Canadian team for this event. This meet is the smallest international meeting in the four years between Paralympics and runs from Aug. 9 to 13.

The 42 year-old Cunnington, who only began swimming internationally in 2015 that included a triple medal performance at the Toronto Para-Pan American Games, grew up in Ponoka and became a paraplegic with full use of her right arm as a result of being struck by an airplane at a local air show when she was just six.

At the Para-Pan Pacific event, she will be competing in the SB3 50m breaststroke and the S4 50m backstroke, 150m individual medley and 50m freestyle. The SB3 and S4 category’s are for competitors who can use their arms with fair function in their hands, but are unable to use their trunk or legs.

Despite Cunnington’s challenges in the pool since the Rio Paralympics, she hoping that this meet will see her continue the upward trend that resulted in her being named to be among the Canadian contingent.

“My expectations at this meet are more around technique, consistency and mental performance than my actual times. I have improved a lot the last eight weeks and I’d like to see those improvements on race days,” she explained.

“My approach to the event is more of an opportunity to reset and find my technique and swim strong and confidently.”

She added her focus will be strictly on swimming and competing well, while leaving the times and any thoughts of landing on the podium out of the process for the next week.

And with two years before the next Paralympics — set for Tokyo, Japan from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, 2020 — Cunnington isn’t entirely certain whether she will be swimming competitively by then.

“At the moment, my goals for the future in swimming are unclear. There have been rule changes, event changes and an overall reclassification of all athletes,” she stated.

“With these changes going on, I’m not quite sure yet where I fit or what the future will bring.”

That being said however, Cunnington will be in the pool for at least the coming competitive season.

“I want to retire on a positive note, with having reached my full potential,” she said.

“So, I’m definitely going to compete next season and then take it from there. I’ll see where my times go and where all the changes go and make decisions based on that.”


Canadian swimmer Tammy Cunnington, competes in the women’s 150m IM at the Olympic Aquatic Centre during the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. (Photo Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee)

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