Tammy Cunnington pushes to reach maximum potential in Rio

Olympic Trials-heats-7apr2016. Photo Scott Grant
Tammy Cunnington is one of 14 Canadians making their Paralympic swimming debut.

On a day where she broke her own world  record in the 50-metre butterfly, Red Deer, Alta. native Tammy Cunnington says she is capable of even better results in the water at the upcoming Rio Games.

“I have not reached my maximum potential yet,”Cunnington says in an interview with Report on Rio on Friday. “I am going to continue to push myself to improve my technique and get my stroke rate higher, as well as get the proper amount of rest so I am at my peak for Rio.”

Cunnington set her new International Paralympic Committee (IPC) world record at the 2016 Can Am Para-swimming Championships, a competition that started on Friday in Gatineau, Quebec. Her new personal best mark in the S4 50-metre fly is 52.70 seconds — two-tenths quicker than her record of 52.90 seconds that she established at the para-swim trials in April.

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Setting new standards in the 50-metre butterfly is one of Cunnington’s many aquatic accomplishments as a member of team Canada:

  • Is the current Canadian record holder in the 50-metre and 100-metre freestyle.
  • She competed at the IPC World Championships, placing seventh in the 50-metre fly
  • She captured a silver medal at the 2015 Parapan American Games in the 200-metre freestyle, and bronze medals in the 100-metre freestyle and the 4X50-metre freestyle relay.

Simply put, the 40-year-old has fared very well since deciding to become a para-swimmer in 2014.

At that time Cunnington, a paraplegic, was a high-performance paratriathlete. She was keen on qualifying for the inaugural Paralympic paratriathlon competition, but she found out that her classification was cut.

A transition to new sport was required in order to keep her Rio Games dream alive.

“My swim coach Mandi Smith, who was coaching me for the swim in the paratriathlon, encouraged me that I would be able to have success competing in swimming,” Cunnington says.

The 40-year-old has approached para-swimming with a desire to work hard and an attention to detail — qualities that have led her to continually improving her results. She went from competing in her first swim meet (December 2014) to qualifying for the Canadian Paralympic Team (April 2016) in less than 18 months.

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Canada’s para-swim team for the Rio Games was officially recognized at a ceremony in Ottawa on Thursday. Cunnington says it was a thrilling experience to be honoured alongside the other 21 Canadian swimmers that qualified for the team.

“It is really exciting to wear the red and white and to have an opportunity to be a part of the efforts to expand the world’s knowledge of the Paralympic movement.”

Cunnington, a member of Red Deer’s Catalina Swim Club, is hoping to be a leader for Canada’s Paralympic squad in Rio.

“We have a really good team,” she says. “I do not have as much swimming experience as some of my younger teammates, but I have more life experience. I hope I can provide good support for them.”

She and her teammates will aim to use this weekend’s championships as an opportunity to learn and to further push to peak performance level. Individually, Cunnington will be using this championship, and the remaining available days of training ahead, to make the transition to competing in the S5 classification. The S4 sport class is not included at the Paralympics.

Many of Cunnington’s remaining days prior to flying to Brazil will be devoted to participating in training camps. Her days of rest will be spent in Red Deer.

When she arrives in Rio de Janeiro, her goal is to soak up every moment of an experience she will share with her husband Martin Piffer. Piffer is not with his wife in Gatineau, but he has provided steady support for her career since they wed in 2006.

“He has been with me every step of the way. He packs my bags, makes me food in the hotel and he always makes feel good.”

Cunnnington’s first day of competition is on Sept.8. The Paralympic swimming competition runs to Sept. 17.


The other athletes on Canada’s para-swim team are as follows:

Men’s Para-swimming
Isaac Bouckley (Oshawa, Ont.)*
Nathan Clement (West Vancouver, B.C.)
Jonathan Dieleman (Telkwa, B.C.)
Alec Elliot (Kitchener, Ont.)
Devin Gotell (Antigonish, N.S.)*
Benoit Huot (Longueuil, Que.)*
James Leroux (Repentigny, Que.)
Gordie Michie (St. Thomas, Ont.)
Tyler Mrak (Surrey, B.C.)
Nathan Stein (Male Ridge, B.C.)*
Nicolas Guy-Turbide (Quebec City, Que.)

Women’s Para-swimming
Morgan Bird (Calgary, Alta.)*
Danielle Dorris (Moncton, N.B.)
Sabrina Duchesne (St-Augustin, Que.)
Nydia Langill (Mississauga, Ont.)
Sarah Mehain (Vernon, B.C.)*
Aurélie Rivard (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.)*
Tess Routliffe (Caledon, Ont.)
Katarina Roxon (Kippens, N.L.)*
Samantha Ryan (Saskatoon, Sask.)
Abi Tripp (Kingston, Ont.)

Tammy Cunnington (Red Deer, Alta.)

*Denotes previous Paralympic Games experience

The nominated team will be supported by head coach Craig McCord (Vancouver, B.C.) and coaches France Latendresse (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.), Vince Mikuska (Chilliwack, B.C.) and Mike Thompson (Montreal, Que.).


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