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Pink Shirt Day: Olympic heroes not immune to bullying or being bullied

Richmond's Evan Dunfee recalls days when he lived the cycle of bullying
A memorable 2015 has got even better for Pan American Games gold medalist Evan Dunfee after his victory Sunday in Australia.

Evan Dunfee drew international accolades for his courage and sportsmanship at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.

The Richmond racewalker collapsed at the finish line after smashing the Canadian 50 km record.

He then graciously ended an appeal process — that potentially would have given him the bronze medal — proud and completely satisfied with his performance.

It was a decision that arguably gave Dunfee and his sport more national recognition than standing on the podium ever would have done.

He ultimately has become one of the “faces” of the Games and an example of what sport is truly about.

However, has it always been that way for the kid who grew up in south Richmond and attended McNair secondary?

Dunfee recalls being bullied as “the shortest kid in the class with big round glasses and red curly hair.”

It made him an easy target and he wasn’t alone.

ViaSport B.C., a not-for-profit agency responsible for promoting and developing amateur sport in this province, reports that 94 per cent of B.C. sports organizations believe sport bullying is a serious problem.

More than half of those associations say they know of athletes who have dropped out of their sport entirely due to bullying.

Another 44 per cent say they have seen it happen to coaches and officials, as well.

“Sport is a powerful catalyst for personal growth and community pride; those participating in sport, at any level, should feel safe and encouraged,” said Sheila Bouman, viaSport’s CEO.

“On behalf of the 73 provincial sport organizations viaSport funds, and the 670,000 B.C. members these organizations represent, we are determined to ensure a safe, welcoming and positive sport culture and environment for all British Columbians.”

Dunfee and Alexa Loo, another Richmond Olympian, are part of a new #ERASEbullying video that sees high-profile athletes ask the public to take a pledge and do their part.

“The more public support we can get for this, the greater impact we will have,” added Bouman.

“Power in numbers can lead to real change. Everyone in this province can have a hand in building a thriving sport community.”

As for Dunfee he countered being picked on by becoming a bully himself.

He ended up flipping back and forth between his identities of being bullied or a bully in his years growing up, especially in team sports, although he didn’t know it then.

It was during his time playing minor hockey he didn’t appreciate the contributions of the less talented players, who weren’t regularly scoring goals.

Although he didn’t say anything to those teammates, it was the psychological aspect of not making them feel as important as everyone else.

“Looking back, I realize how wrong I was. Especially in a team mindset, where it becomes a lot easier to rally people and segregate the team if you have a couple of people willing to think that way.”

Dunfee now has a new outlook on sport that is no longer result-oriented.

“It’s been cemented this year in the idea of sport being this place, especially for young kids where it acts as a microcosm for real life where you have to learn and use all the skills you need in the real world as an adult,” he said, “like teamwork, sportsmanship, hard work and dedication.

“I think sports should provide a safe environment for kids to learn all these things at their own pace and sort of mimic all of the skills they need outside of sport.”

If Dunfee would have taken to heart everyone who bullied him years ago, he would have quit athletics entirely.

He encourages today’s kids to speak out and not be intimidated by anyone.

“If sport is something you’re incredibly passionate about, don’t let one person stand in the way of you pursuing that,” he said.

“Find ways to rectify the situation and eliminate that barrier so that you can continue all the wonderful things through sport that exist.”