August 5th, 2015

By Jim Morris

Jonathan Dieleman always liked the down and dirty.

Whether it was hanging onto the back of a bucking bronco or racing an off-road motorcycle, Dieleman loved speed and danger.

“I was the prototypical cowboy growing up,” said the 30-year-old native of Quick, B.C. “I wore wranglers and cowboy boots and a cowboy hat everywhere.”

Raised on a farm, Dieleman competed on the amateur rodeo circuit, riding bulls and bareback horses. He also trained for motocross races.

The life Dieleman knew changed dramatically about five years ago when he crashed his 250cc dirt bike on his parent’s farm.

“I was wheeling across one hayfield in fifth gear, hit a rock, and went cartwheeling,” he said. “The bike landed on me.

“Thirty seconds after I came to in the field I knew my back was broken.”

The accident left Dieleman a T4 paraplegic, paralysed from the centre of his chest down. The crash was a crossroads that put him on a path that would eventually lead him to Para-swimming and competing at the Toronto Parapan Am Games.

At the Speedo Can Am Para-swimming championships this spring Dieleman won the S5 50-meter breaststroke and S4 150-m individual medley. That earned him a spot on the Parapan team.

“I was ecstatic,” said Dieleman. “When I realised I had been added to the team, at first I didn’t believe it.”

Dieleman took swimming lessons as a child and used the pool as part of his fitness regime. He returned to swimming a few months after being released from rehab.

“Mainly it was just to get out of my chair, a way to keep in shape, a way to be free,” he said.

“That was my way of feeling freedom outside of my wheelchair, to get pressure off everything. The way to be able to feel I was the same as everyone else still.”

While swimming at the local pool Dieleman got involved in Para-triathlon. He bought a hand cycle and last December moved to Vancouver to train with veteran Para-triathlete Scott Patterson.

It was in Vancouver that Patterson’s coach Marianne Wieland De Alvarez saw Dieleman and convinced him to concentrate on Para-swimming.

Dieleman knew the opportunity came with a commitment.

“I realized if I wanted to do this I had to train every day,” he said. “I just made myself start going to the pool more and more often.

“I had always done lots of strength training and stuff like that before I broke my back. Even after I broke my back I did a fair bit of training. The biggest reason I kind of did it was because I realized I really needed to do something to keep me in shape and give me motivation to stay in shape and stay healthy.”

The Parapans will be Dieleman’s first major international competition.

“My goal is to do the best I can, to have that stepping stone so I can get better and get faster,” he said.

Former cowboy Jonathan Dieleman now happy to ride the water at Parapan Games

 

Craig McCord, the national Para-swimming coach, said Dieleman is still new in the sport but showed his potential during the team’s training camp in Gatineau, Que.

“The changes he has been able to implement (in a short time) is spectacular,” said McCord. “He’s very coachable. He’s willing to learn.

“I see with Jonathan there is a huge upside.”

The experience Dieleman gains during the Parapans will help him in his goal of racing at next year’s Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

McCord said Dieleman has already proven his determination and resiliency.

“For any able-bodied individual to have a traumatic life-changing experience, the road back to normalcy is incredibly tough,” said McCord.

“The fact he’s gone beyond daily life and is now pursing athletic excellence in the pool is a huge thing for him. It’s something we as able-bodied individuals take for granted.”

Dieleman is already looking past his competitive career. He loves scuba diving and dreams of opening a dive shop in Belize.

“Being in the water, it’s the freedom of swimming around, just floating,” he said.

 

 Source : Swimming Canada