In the sweltering heat of the Valley of a Thousand Hills (over 40 degrees from 8am on), my 6 ‘Change a life’ boys raced like true valley warriors. With the help of the rest of the ‘Change a life’ squad who were assigned to seconding the different crews- filling water bottles with USN rocket fuel, pouring iced water over the well overheated ‘engines’, feeding and shouting endless encouragement, each ‘Change a life’ boat crossed the finish line, having redefined their physical limitations and superceding all my expectations, all in podium positions. I pinch myself in disbelief, surely this must be a dream. The only dream there was, is that of Thomas & Eric to win this race, which is no longer a dream but now reality. 

                              CRACK OF DAWN START – first portage.

                             LOW LEVEL BRIDGE – 35min into race

WINNERS and 1st doubles crew, Thomas Ngidi and Eric Zondi, had a flawless race, spending the majority of the day building a good lead on the next crews- from 1min40 at Campbells Portage, 4min at Guinea Fowl, 7min at Mission Rapid, to having 14mins to play with going across Inanda Dam and over Burma. But it was on that mountain where they had to dig to those inner reserves. Eric cramped on the summit. He looked down at his legs, irritated they were misbehaving. To punish them, he simply pushed through it, the R30 000 first prize was too good a thing to let slip.

Behind them was non-stop tussling between Michael Mbanjwa/Piers Cruikshanks (cracked their nose of their canoe on day 1), Craig Turton/Kelvin Trautman and Greg/Craig Carter-Browns. The action didn’t stop here, as my other ‘Change a life’ crew of Kwanda Mhlophe and Richard Cele (5th place) set these three boats in their range-of-fire, putting in ahead of all three halfway in the race, after the grueling Ngumeni portage.

With a 2.30min gap at Inanda Dam bridge and with Burma portage looming, a 2nd place finish for Kwanda/Richard looked quite possible. However, the two chasing boats of Craig/Kelvin and Piers/Michael working together across the long flat stretch of Inanda Dam would disadvantage the ‘Change a life’ crew, who did manage to hold them off but with only a few seconds to spare going into the Third Day, at the Dam Wall portage. A brave but smooth move by Craig/Kelvin, shooting the high risk Tops Needle rapid,  saw them move into 2nd place as Kwanda/Richard took the conservative option of putting in halfway down this Rapid.  The generous release of water from Inanda Dam (40 cumecs), made for exciting white-water paddling. Kwanda/Richard, ran over Burma Hill, and incredibly held onto their 3rd position, holding off last years winners Michael Mbanjwa and Piers Cruikshanks.


For Thomas and Eric, it was the BEST feeling they have ever experienced, to be the first black paddlers to ever win a major race. Paddling down that home straight, the huge grins on their faces told it all. “Its crazy, I feel less tired now than I did at the start of the race” said an overjoyed Ngidi afterwards. Their winning time of 8h17, gave them a 9min cushion over Craig/Kelvin (8h26).

                                     THOMAS & ERIC APPROACHING TOMBI RAPID – DAY 2

 Kwanda/Richard, the surprise of the day, cruised into 3rd place in 8h38- both being novices to Non-Stop Dusi, raced their dream race to date. (Apparently Richard seemed surprised to be asked on every portage if he was feeling ok… as if “why should I be feeling otherwise?” and that would be followed by a huge grin).

Apart from the doubles action unfolding from the start, the top singles were playing cat-and mouse just behind. Last years winner and 2nd place, Mark Mulder and Lucas Nthalane were seemigly ready to challenge each other again, with the addition of ex-Valley boy, Loveday Zondi now working in Jhb.

Mark seemed to take early retirement into 3rd place as Lucas tagged Loveday all the way to Ngumeni portage. Here Loveday turned up the gas slightly to open a small gap on Lucas, who couldn’t respond so quickly. This gap widened when Lucas struggled going over Burma, whilst Loveday opted to paddle around. However with an hour to go, Loveday “hit the wall” and Lucas started to gain on his Valley compatriot at an alarming rate. If it wasn’t for Lucas’s swim at the notorious Pump House rapid (where Ant Stott and Michael Mbanjwa swam, losing the lead in the 2010 Dusi) their result could have been reversed. Loveday’s winning time of 8h58 was just over 3min ahead of Lucas in 9h01. Another surprise finish for team ‘Change a life’, was our ‘silent assassin’, the unranked Nhlanhla Cele, who came home in 3rd place, 9h05. Having not been ‘part of the mix’ for much of the day, Nhlanhla raced conservatively but steady… and in Non Stop – ‘steady wins the game’.

Apart from my racing snakes outstanding performances, the other ‘Change a life’ Academy athletes were inc redible. For over 8hrs the seconds endured the scorching sun, rutted roads and dust through the valley from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Always laughing and encouraging and making sure their racing mates were getting what they wanted and needed on the portages. I was humbled at yellow rock portage as Thomas’s Mom arrived with eight 2L bottles of frozen water (she got four families to freeze two 2L bottles).


In this heat, iced water was gold, this was an invaluable contribution considering our water supply was dimishing at an alarming rate. later it was  necessary to hide two of these now half frozen 2L bottles on the Dam Wall portage (Day 3) for Lucas’s support crew to pick-up. To have local and family support throughout the valley and to have numerous family members at the finish line, this is really what it is all about. A victory can feel empty when it is achieved alone.

Having experienced the true elation of crossing that Non Stop finish line first, I can relate to the immense effort, extreme focus/concentration it took to steer that double canoe through all 3 days without a single hiccup. The billboards read in Maritzburg today “ZONDI/NGIDI MAKE HISTORY”. Thomas, Eric I salute you.

A huge thank you to my four  efficient seconding teams. Iain, Peter, Jeannie – your help was invaluable. And to Cameron MacKenzie and Fritz Kamhoot for generously lending the use of their vehicles. And last but not least, to the ‘Change a Life’ boys, siyabonga kakhulu. 

So where to from now? a short recovery break for these Non-Stop Dusi warriors while a few others ‘Change a life’ athletes fine-tune for Drak Challenge (27th/28th Feb), then a new and challenging multisport year begins.

I could not and have not ever taken on a position that didn’t allow me to utilize my talent anyone could find out more as an effective communicator


  • PaddleTroll:

    Well done to you and your guys from the valley Martin – unbelievable achievement! You really make me proud to be a paddler and associated with a sport that has someone like you doing so much to change lives. Keep it up, and know that the paddling community as a whole is incredibly proud of all of you!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.