2021  n p t  s i b i  dunn

Remembering your roots

National Para Hockey forward James Dunn has become a role model in his home community as a guest coach and public speaker

Lee Boyadjian
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December 10, 2021
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The Hockey Canada jersey had been in Alexander Tait’s bag for too long. It needed to be washed – badly. But the eight-year-old was really worried.

The jersey had James Dunn’s signature on it and Alexander couldn’t lose that.

“I think he’s like Terry Fox and he’s a Canadian hero.”

Though Dunn may balk at the comparison, Alexander’s father and Dunn’s former high school teacher, Rob Tait, said for the small communities of Elgin County in southwestern Ontario, where Dunn grew up, it is absolutely true.

“James is just a very special person, and his story is a great one for young and old to follow along with,” says the elder Tait.

Dunn was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had his right leg amputated at just 12 years old in 2012. It was the same cancer that also cost Terry Fox his leg and life.

The same year as his surgery, Dunn was introduced to para hockey with the London Blizzard Sledge Hockey Club. Four years later, he was a silver medallist with Team Ontario at the Canadian Sledge Hockey Championship. And by 2018, Dunn was in PyeongChang, South Korea, for the Paralympic Winter Games. He was the youngest player in Hockey Canada history to represent the red and white at the Paralympics.

“I would think the majority of people, if they encountered what he had to go through, they would have been very negative,” Rob says. “But I don’t ever remember James wanting to have a pity party or anything like that.

“He just said, ‘No, I’m going to beat this,’ and he did.”

Rob said the entire community cheered for Dunn as he beat off the disease. Then they cheered as he suited up for Team Canada and became a local hero. But never has that support changed Dunn as a person. If he is in town, he’s always willing to come out for a practice with a local team or speak at a community event.

“I really just like to see the passion the kids have for the game,” Dunn says. “When I was that age, I loved the game and just to see them having fun out there and enjoying it is the biggest thing for me.”

One of Dunn’s fondest hockey memories comes from hockey class at West Elgin Secondary School. It was his turn to plan a practice, so he brought out sleds for the whole class and taught everyone to play para hockey, even Rob.

“It’s really cool to see people try para hockey for the first time and to experience the sport I play,” Dunn says, smiling at the memory. Rob, meanwhile, laughs outright thinking of his time in a sled.

“I gained a lot more appreciation for [para hockey],” Rob says. “Some of the kids did alright but I got set up at the hashmarks and couldn’t get out [of the zone].”

Since graduation and his rise to the national team, Dunn has returned to Tait’s hockey class as a guest coach, with the students in awe of his abilities and poise. Tait said he has to remind his class that Dunn is only a few years older and very happy to answer questions. But the real magic, Rob says, will happen anytime Dunn comes out for a practice with a minor team.

“Here you have these eight- and nine-year-olds and usually it’s like herding cats, but James came out on the ice and I blew the whistle and they were quiet as church mice,” Rob says. “The kids don’t see him as having a prosthetic, he is a Team Canada athlete.”

Which is also what Alexander wants to be one day, like his hero James Dunn.

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
dsaillant@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

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