A race walker competes with a blurred backgroundLeah Hennel/COC
Leah Hennel/COC

Evan Dunfee is racing into politics (and Paris 2024) with the help of Smith School of Business

Evan Dunfee walks through life wearing lots of different hats: elite athlete, coach, board member of his local food bank and KidSport chapter, vice-president of his local track club, aspiring city councillor, and business school student. The two-time Olympian and veteran of three Pan Am Games has seemingly unending energy for both his training and his work in the community.

Dunfee ran for city council in his hometown of Richmond, B.C. in 2022, coming up just shy of election. Like a true athlete, he is ready to take what he learned from that experience to help him prepare for the next election.

“In Rio, I was just off the podium [Dunfee finished fourth] and in Tokyo I came back and got on the podium [he won a bronze medal]. In the first election, I was just off the podium, so hopefully in the next election I can follow the same playbook as my Olympic experiences and learn the lessons from the last one to get on that podium,” Dunfee says.

One way that Dunfee is preparing himself is through education. He’s studying for a Certificate in Business at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. Smith is the Official National Business Education Partner of the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Through Smith’s relationship with Game Plan, Canada’s total athlete wellness program, Team Canada athletes have access to academic awards to attend Smith’s Certificate in Business, MBA, and specialized Masters programs. The Certificate in Business offers flexible learning opportunities for athletes.

Evan Dunfee race walks during the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games
Evan Dunfee of Canada competes in the Men’s 20km Race Walk finals during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Sunday, October 29, 2023. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

This flexibility is key for Dunfee, who is still shouldering a full training load as he prepares for his third Olympic Games. The 33-year-old is qualified for Paris 2024 individually in the 20km race walk, as well as in the new marathon race walk mixed relay event. For the latter, Dunfee will team up with Olivia Lundman, a rising race-walking talent whom Dunfee coaches. Dunfee was able to stay on schedule with his courses while training in Australia, and he took an exam while in Turkey, just days before competing with Lundman in the qualification race for the relay.

“On the one hand with Olivia [who is still a university student], we were having to email her professors and get exams rescheduled,” Dunfee explains, “So for me to have that flexibility is amazing.”

He’s not the only member of Team Canada taking advantage of the ability to learn from anywhere around the world. When Dunfee competed at the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games in the fall, three other athletes from his Smith study group were also there.

“It was fun to meet in person and be like ‘hey, let’s go work on this!’” Dunfee says with a chuckle, “And it showed how adaptive it was that we were able to continue within the program while competing.”

On the flip side, students in the program who aren’t elite athletes get the benefit of learning alongside and working with some of the country’s top athletes, who bring a unique perspective to the online classroom.

A close up shot of Evan Dunfee while wearing his Team Canada singlet
Evan Dunfee of Canada competes in the Men’s 20km Race Walk finals during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Sunday, October 29, 2023. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

Dunfee has been able to draw lots of connections between his life as an elite athlete and the learning objectives in each of the courses. He just finished the intro to accounting courses and is especially keen to start the marketing and organizational management courses.

“I’m looking forward to the marketing course because that is an area that I could substantially benefit from in my athletic pursuits,” says Dunfee. “And what I’ve already learned through Smith has been incredibly applicable. For example, my increased ability to understand financial statements is increasing my value in my roles on various boards.”

For now, Dunfee has put a pause on his courses in the ramp-up to the Olympic Games. He will restart them again in September–another crucial accommodation for athletes. He plans to complete the certificate before entering the municipal election race in Richmond again in 2026. Dunfee’s passion for building better cities is in large part drawn from his experience walking throughout Richmond every day for training.

“I navigate my city at 12 kilometres an hour, so I see it so differently,” Dunfee says.

Similarly, he thinks that Game Plan is a crucial piece in building a better sport system.

“I have the privilege of training with athletes all over the world, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else has anything like Game Plan in terms of acknowledging that we’re more than just athletes, and that the sport system hasn’t always historically been set up to help transition [athletes] into the ‘real world’ in the healthiest of ways,” Dunfee says. “I think the Smith program is just another example of an amazing resource to help us move beyond sport.”