By Tom Morrison, Postmedia Network
James Dunn is soft-spoken, but he draws a loud response from his peers.
West Elgin Secondary School gave the 17-year-old Wallacetown resident a send-off on Feb. 22 before he leaves for Pyeongchang, South Korea to compete on the Canadian Paralympic sledge hockey team.
“I’m pretty honoured. It’s really cool. It’s a nice opportunity,” said Dunn of the event. “I think they’re all proud of me and where I’ve came from – this community.”
Dunn was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and had part of his leg amputated shortly afterwards. He went through chemotherapy in 2012, but the disease spread to his chest the following year.
He had played hockey since he was six. Another man in hospital with Dunn suggested he try out sledge hockey about five years ago.
“It was really hard to catch on to it at the beginning,” said the Grade 12 student. “I was always tipping over and couldn’t really shoot and everything, but as time went on I kind of adapted to it, got well at it.”
The youngest player on his team, Dunn said he is “proud to represent my country in the sport I love.”
The event at his school included speeches from local dignitaries like Dutton/Dunwich Mayor Cameron McWilliams and Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio.
McWilliams, who remembers attending a fundraiser when Dunn was first diagnosed, said the teen’s story should show people in the community they should pursue any goal or aspiration they have because “you never know what’s going to happen.
“From my understanding, he started learning the game when he was still getting treatment, so that’s a testament to his desire and ability to do that,” he said. “Knowing James, his next goal is the gold medal.”
Students and teachers also filmed short videos expressing their support for Dunn. Angela Schneider, an Olympic silver medalist rower in the 1984 games who also grew up in the region, sent in a video as well.
Mackenzie Fink, a Grade 12 student who has known Dunn since Grade 7, said everyone at the school is proud of Dunn.
“He’s honestly one of the most humble and kindest kids around,” she said. “Out of everyone, he deserves this so much. He’s been through a lot, but he’s overcome it always with a smile on his face.”
Dunn will be cancer-free for five years later this year.
WESS vice principal Kim Gadsdon said it is “overwhelmingly exciting” to have a student at her school come this far.
“Regardless of where you’re from or perhaps because of where you’re from you can make the most of an absolutely challenging situation,” she said. “James has more grit, persistence and determination than any person I know. He’s a role model for us all.”
The school is planning to hold another event after Dunn returns from the Paralympics, said Gadsdon.
“I think we expect to do pretty well there,” said Dunn. “Our biggest competition is the U.S.”
– With files from Louis Pin