RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Jonathan Dieleman was buoyed by the memory of his uncle when he swam his way into the finals of the men’s SB3 50-metre breaststroke Wednesday at the Rio Paralympics.
Dieleman swam a personal best of 50.08 seconds, finishing third in his heat and earning a spot in the final later Wednesday.
“It’s been a really rough summer for my family,” said Dieleman, fighting back tears after the race. “My uncle passed away a week before I went to Can Ams in Gatineau, it was the second funeral in our family that I had missed this summer.
“My uncle’s birthday was yesterday and he would have been 48, so now it’s about making sure that he would have been proud.”
Dieleman swam his previous personal best, a national record, at the Canadian Para-swimming trials in April in Toronto. The achievement came in a race he dedicated to his grandfather who had recently died.
The 31-year-old Dieleman has come a long way in the pool in a short time.
Born in Edmonton and raised on a farm, the self-identified cowboy enjoyed riding bulls and bareback horses until he broke his back in a dirt bike accident in 2010.
“Me starting competitive swimming basically two years ago and being able to go from showing up in the sport to being in the top five within a year and half, I can still improve a lot,” Dieleman said. “I want to make myself work all the time, I put that pressure on myself even if I miss I’m still going to be up there.”
Not short on confidence, Dieleman is sporting a bright red Mohawk in Rio, which he says serves as intimidation. “Got to be showy,” he said.
Dieleman is just the second Canadian to compete in the event under the SB3 classification. This race debuted at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where fellow Canuck Gareth Harris took home bronze.