December 2, 2014 12:27 pm
Updated: December 2, 2014 1:16 pm

Australian rugby player turns to bobsleigh in Calgary with eye on 2018 Olympics

Simon Dunn is in Calgary training to compete on the Australian Olympic bobsleigh team.

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TORONTO — Simon Dunn didn’t know he wanted to be an Olympic bobsledder until he left his home in sunny Australia and travelled 13,000 kilometres to snowy Calgary.

The 27-year-old, who grew up in a small town an hour south of Sydney, arrived in Canada last year to pursue his passion for rugby. He started playing with the Canucks Rugby Club and landed a job at the Winter Sports Institute at Olympic Park.

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“Pretty much instantly, bobsleigh had my attention,” Dunn said. “Seeing all the bobsledders training sparked my interest in the sport.”

The transition to the new sport was easy to make. “Both place a strong focus on lifting and spring training,” he explained, “therefore it is an easy crossover sport once you have the technical side mastered.”

Dunn has launched an online campaign to raise funds that will allow him to compete for his native country in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. He will serve as brakeman for Lucas Mata, who competed for Australia in Sochi.

Dunn said the money is needed for equipment, coaching and travel — expenses not covered by his day job.

“The money I earn goes towards living costs and competitions,” he said. “When I’m away competing or training, I can’t work, therefore I have no income during this time.”

At the North America’s Cup bobsleigh competition last month in Calgary, Dunn had to work shifts before and after competing.

“Obviously this isn’t ideal to achieve the level of performance I’m capable of,” he said.

Dunn doesn’t know if donations will come primarily from Australians or Canadians — and he doesn’t really care.

“I’m hoping for support from anyone who has faith in both my ability as an athlete and what I represent,” he said.

The challenge is bobsleighing is an under-recognized sport and Dunn is competing for a country with a lack of snowy mountains. (Of 29 teams competing at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Australia finished 22nd in the four-man competition and 26th in the two-man competition.)

Dunn is also openly gay.

He believes he’s shattering stereotypes by competing in two hyper-masculine sports.

“Growing up playing in a rugby league, I always felt I wasn’t worthy because of my sexuality,” recalled Dunn. “Not realising that was the only difference between me and them and it had nothing to do with my physicality as a player.

“Now with bobsleigh it’s more about being the best athlete I can. My sexuality isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a contributing factor.”

Dunn also understands he is a role model.

“If a young gay person sees my story and [realizes they are] capable of the sport they love, then that’s a win in itself.”

Mark Tewksbury, a Canadian Olympic gold medalist who came out publicly in 1998, agreed.

“It’s really great to see,” he told Global News on Tuesday.

Tewksbury, who served as Chef de Mission for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, said it’s important to see openly gay athletes in more diverse sports — “especially bobsled.”

Dunn maintains a strong presence on Twitter and Instagram, where he unabashedly shares personal photos.

“For me it’s about building a profile,” he said. “It’s my point of deference and hopefully this gets noticed by a potential sponsor.”

Some of his selfies have earned Dunn a growing community of gay fans.

He said Australian and Canadian men are “pretty much the same” although the former tend to be more tanned.

And while he’s happy in his adoptive home, Dunn admitted there’s something Calgary can’t offer.

“I miss the beach every day!”

© 2014 Shaw Media

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