By John Matisz/London Community News
Even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Jacqueline Rennebohm knew it was not all about material victories.
“I would love a personal best and all of those lovely things,” said Rennebohm while at the games, representing Canada as a short distance track runner from Nov. 14-15. “But, I’m not going to be too focused about the result until the process happens.”
Suffering from Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a form of macular degeneration, the University of Western Ontario (UWO) Mustangs runner is accustomed patience and perseverance. For the past 15 years, Rennebohm — now 22 — has been losing her sight at a gradual rate.
Like many who require eye glasses, the Regina, Sask., native first realized she had vision problems after having trouble reading a chalkboard at school. Nowadays, she has about seven per cent of her sight remaining; eventually she will be completely blind.
“All you can do is control your own race,” she said, using a running analogy to describe her life and the obstacles she faces.
Formerly a successful swimmer — having donned the red and white for Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing — Rennebohm's first international event as a runner was the Parapan games.
In only her third year as a competitive runner, the environmental health studies student, represented Canada admirably, posting times of 14.31 seconds and 29.97 seconds in the 100-metre and 200-metre dashes, respectively.
“I swam for nine years, doing 30 hours a week,” she recalled. “When I hit university, I knew I wanted something different. Coming to a new city, new possibilities, I thought I’d take it to a new level by getting into running.”
Though she missed the finals in both the 100-metre and 200-metre races in Mexico, as the 200-metre dash Canadian record holder for all runners in her vision category, Rennebolm appears to be making considerable strides towards an international medal.
“She certainly has the kind of commitment and dedication to the sport that will reap success in the future,” said Team Canada athletics coach Hugh Conlin. “She is very hardworking and I can’t say enough about her. She is so positive about her disability.”
Since Rennebohm had attended both the Paralympics (2008) and Parapan American Games (2007) before — albeit as a swimmer — she said she didn’t feel the pressures associated with such high quality competition.
“It’s not overwhelming in a negative sense; it’s overwhelming in a ‘wow’ sense,” she said. “I have so many tools in my toolbox.”
Some of those tools have transferred over from swimming. Exceptional stamina, leg strength and determination are just a few of the key attributes that have made the journey from the pool to the track alongside Rennebohm and her positive perspective.
“Having a proactive mindset has definitely helped me later in life,” said Rennebohm of what she has learned from day one as a physically disabled athlete. “Just having that foundation really set the tone for the rest of my life.”
An addition to her athletic repertoire has been pace runner Simon Hodge, another UWO Mustangs athlete. Together, the pair hopes to make it to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England.
“That’s my long-term goal,” Rennebohm said.