Amazement and inspiration.
Two words, among many, that glorifies the work ethic, attitude and desire of Crispin Duenas.
For those who have not heard his name, Duenas is an athlete in the exclusive category of being a four-time Canadian Olympian with appearances in Beijing, London, Rio de Janeiro and this year, Tokyo.
His sport specialty is archery.
Some view it as a competitive and recreational activity, but there is quite a bit more that encompasses the artistry of the sport, including the technique, form, intense training, or just the skill of using a bow and arrow.
History claims archery has been around for some 70,000 years, but modern-day competitive archery involves targeting for accuracy from a pre-defined distance. Archery first appeared in the Olympics in 1900, and took a hiatus for some 52 years before returning in 1972.
As for Duenas, his introduction to this challenging sport started when he was in his graduating year at John A. Leslie Public School in Scarborough. The school’s motto "living to learn, learning to live”, fits with Duenas’ philosophy.
Although very much enthused by bows and arrows as a youngster, it was his math teacher, Chris Constantine, who may be responsible for launching Duenas to a career that also includes top 10 appearances at the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships.
At the 2019 Pan Am Games in Peru, Duenas left the South American competition with two gold medals for excellence in the individual category as well as leading the Canadian team to the top of the podium.
“I had played most sports and was looking for something different and mentioned archery,” said Duenas, reached in Turkey where the Canadian team was training at an exclusive world acclaimed facility on the south Mediterranean Sea coast with athletes from the Virgin Islands, Iran and the host country.
“(Constantine) had told me that he was a member of Archers of Caledon, a club, and I got the invite. It was all pure luck and chance. That was it, and I never looked back.”
Duenas would move on to Birchmount Park Collegiate, known for its Exceptional Athlete Program and would go on to carve a page in history by becoming the first able-bodied athlete from the Toronto District School Board site to go to the Olympics.
Now, a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the 35-year-old has been a substitute teacher since 2013. In June of this year, he was added to the TDSB’s recommended for hire list as a full-time teacher.
One of Canada’s elite archers, and likely the best, Duenas knows that the greatest stories are lived, not told. His best, for now, doesn’t relate to winning jewellery at championships.
“It was 2013, in the same place that I am training in now, that was something very special to me,” recalled Duenas. “I had won a bronze medal at an outdoor championship, and it was the first by a Canadian in a World championship in over 40 years. I had also faced all the Olympic medallists who had competed a year earlier in London, and I did so well.”
The world knew that Duenas was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with.
At the 2008 Olympics in China, Duenas placed 39th in the individual category. Four years later, in England, he was 33rd, and in Brazil, in 2016, had improved to 17th in the world.
“I honestly believe that I am better now, but it comes down to how I handle myself,” said Duenas. “Competition on the world stage is always very tough. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”
Duenas will take to the Olympics, delayed one year because of the coronavirus pandemic, when the competition begins at Yumenoshima Park on July 22. He hopes to be on the medal podium when the final results are tabulated nine days later.
With his impossible dream now a reality, Duenas is not thinking about retirement from the sport. However, he does think introducing the sport to school age students is something he highly recommends.
“I think it would be great in the TDSB because archery provides for discipline, respect and keeps students interested and involved. It’s also great for bringing those who may be introverted, out of their shell and not have to worry about concussions or getting physically hurt. Archery looks un-athletic, but there is athleticism. I know.”
Duenas also has an attachment to music.
He learned to play the flute, piano and trumpet while in elementary school, then added the drums and guitar to his repertoire in high school while also joining the choir. That guy you may have heard playing the guitar with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield at the pre-2016 Olympic Excellence Series, was Duenas.
He has trained to the song Hall of Fame, by the group Script, commenting that he finds the masterpiece lyrics to be persuasive and meaningful.
And while archery, his career in education and interest in music have all gone well for Duenas, there is always a reminder of something special.
“I almost lost the opportunity to play sports when my school grades slipped,” he said. “Education always came first, and my parents reminded me. When you look up to the proper people, you can see that it’s possible to be an academic and an athlete.”
By David Grossman - July 2021