Archive for January 2011
Dusi fever reached a peak in yesterdays Campbells to Dusi Bridge Canoe Race. For “Change a Life’s” Thomas Ngidi to stand at the top of the podium will be looked at in years to come as an incredible victory especially as 4 of the 5 race favourites/top dogs (Hank, Ant, Birkett and Bungi) were in the mix – the most competitive field to date for the 2011 Dusi.
Riding on my Mtb, I scurried along the river paths and roads, keeping a close eye on my top racing Zulus. Thomas made no secret of what his intentions were, as he powered out of the leg burning Devil’s Cauldron on the Guinea Fowl portage, already in first place. Birkett, Hank and Bungi were well back in the field in cruise mode, choosing rather to fly under the radar with only a few weeks to go to the big race.
Next over the rise was Lance Kime, followed by Ant Stott and ‘Change a Life’ junior Mmeli Cele. As Lucas came past, he very emphatically said “I’m finished” to the seconds waiting for their paddlers and then smiled at me. I ran next to him and said “Stop pretending, I know you better, you playing just like Bungi….
Riding along the Dusi, after the Guinea Fowl put-in, I came across Lance Kime still running with his boat. Querying this oddity, he answered that he has holed his boat and is running to find someone with Duct tape. Having nothing with me, I could only offer him a positive word of encouragement – “lucky this isn’t the Dusi” – meaning rather now than in the big race.
John Ngcobo was going steady – top 15, until he took a bad line down a no-name rapid and got stuck, watching in disappoint as a number of boats scuttled past.
Zonele was tired from his paddle/run race the previous day in Jhb. Eric too drove up with Bungi to take part in this inaugural event. Eric placed 4th and Zonele 6th. Due to a cultural ceremony, Eric couldn’t do this race.
Richard just hasn’t had any luck with good seeding, not even his top ten Midmar Mini had effect…. Nonetheless, along with his brother Nhlanhla, they raced up a storm. Starting in B- batch, they placed 8th and 9th overall.
Although there was a water release from Henley dam, it wasn’t much, which made it a technical race – meaning there was little room for navigation error, as many rocks were lying in ambush just beneath the surface.
Ant was first onto the Cabbage Tree portage, with almost a minute lead. Thomas powered up the steep incline as if it was horizontal. How he generates such power from his toothpick legs never ceases to amaze me. Upon cresting the summit, he was alongside Ant. Now there was no holding back, it was all or nothing.
When he put back in the river, he had a 35 sec lead. Would it be enough to hold off one of SA’s top Maestro river paddlers.
Ant caught Thomas as he was nearing the finish line and graciously let him take line honours – for putting up such a superb performance – one deserving of victory.
‘Change a Life” junior Mmeli was holding onto 3rd, with 4 min to go, until the hard chasing Piers Cruikshanks passed him. “I’m Finished” Lucas made up positions quite nicely in the latter half of the race to close up the top 5 positions.
Well done KK – (as his close friends affectionately call him) I know your Dad [passed away - 21/01/2011] would have been so proud of you….
The ‘Change a Life’ boys not being familiar with the path of least resistance down the Umzimkulu River, nerves were on edge. Especially so, when a sms was sent out two days prior to race start, “River High, don’t forget to bring helmets”.
The Drak Challenge is a two day race near the little town of Underberg, up in the Drakensberg. I say up because interestingly, it takes place at an altitude higher than Jhb. And with Dusi fever in the air, a record 1000 paddlers were about to pit their skills upon this technically challenging river.
I was excited that Thomas Ngidi (one of the ‘Change a Life’ heroes) would be racing as he has been absent from the Valley due to taking up a work opportunity in Jhb. Unfortunately, his Father passed away the day before the race and so he could not come. This will be a very sad Dusi indeed, with Richard & Nhlanhla’s Dad also recently passing away, not to mention Margi Oliver (who became an institution of SA Canoeing, faithfully doing the time-keeping alongside her husband John Oliver). I cannot remember a race in Kzn, that Margi wasn’t waiting at the finish. I used to climb out my boat, knackered, wander over to Margs to see my time, but in reality it was to eat a delicious treat of sort, which was always on offer from her secret stash. Then also the passing of the Legendary “Pope”, no Dusi will ever be the same.
My Zulus spirits were high on the start line albeit a damp camping experience the previous night. A highly competitive men’s A-batch, including Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins and Ant Stott waited anxiously for the start gun. It was a hussle & bussle affair with canoeists running to their canoes. The carnage on the first 90 degree left bend was entertaining for the crowd on the bank and a good lesson for later starters, on what not to do.
The K3 with a mounted camera on the back deck, captained by Stu Rawlinson, took the cake as it bombarded its way up the right bank, spinning upstream, capsizing its occupants in the process. Fortunately no damage was done, except of course their egos.
‘Change a Life’ paddling sensation Zonele Nzuza, finished 8th after Day 1, negotiating the top technical white-water section like a pro. The finest result of the day came from junior Mmeli Cele, who finished an incredible 16th overall, ahead of all his senior ‘Change a Life’ compatriots. Chasing him down were the foursome of Kwanda, Nksoi (Mmeli’s brother), John and Lucas – over two minutes adrift. A frustrated Eric Zondi came across the line a minute later. Having no swims, he struggled with a leaking splash cover, having to stop and empty a few times. His pumps couldn’t keep up with the water coming in – this makes the boat harder to paddle and the steering ‘lethargic’, causing huge extra effort with the negative of a drop in boat speed.
Explaining to him afterwards – “this race is just training. It’s good that this happens to you here, rather than Dusi….” Helped take pressure off him that he was expected to get a result.
But its true, this race is merely a stepping stone in their build-up for Dusi. This past week’s training has been gruelling and there was no rest the day before this race. This race was the perfect playground for testing the new different models of Canoes on fast moving water….
Following Lucas closely, Nhlanhla’s race ended abruptly, when he wrapped his canoe negotiating the infamous boat breaker – Black Murray Rapid. From there he had a steep climb out the Valley, up to the road.
Regarded as the “most fun you can have Canoeing”, the Drak as it is fondly called, is cradled within the most spectacular landscape imaginable. Massive mountains with naturedly pastured green slopes, make the first 40min paddling, a heart thumping experience – as there is no easy escape route if you happen to break your canoe.
Eric showed fine form and skill, when he recorded the 6th fastest time on Day 2, making up for his slack Day 1 race prep. Zonele came unstuck, when he took two swims in the Gorge section, dropping down the ranks to 14th. Kwanda and John, kept it steady, finishing 21st and 22nd respectively.
Mmeli too struggled with the Gorge section (where Ant Stott took a swim), resulting in him dropping back, but just managing to finish one position ahead of his chasing brother Nkosi. Right behind him were Mzamo and Lucas.
The rain poured down as we tied our canoes on the trailer. A lot was learned this weekend, from basic race prep to boat handling skills on a technical river. To conclude, 8 ‘Change a Life’ paddlers came in the top 30 overall – I’m happy with that.
Now with the lovely rain currently falling in the Valley of a thousand Hills, its back to business – we tripping the Dusi at sparrows tomorrow morning….
Pos. Name. Surname. Day 1. Day 2. Overall
1 HANK MCGREGOR 01:25:49.76 02:19:11.30 03:45:01.06
2 LEN JENKINS JNR 01:25:52.52 02:19:10.76 03:45:03.29
3 ANT STOTT 01:25:51.26 02:21:51.74 03:47:43.00
4 JACQUES THERON 01:29:14.07 02:22:18.61 03:51:32.69
5 BRANDON VAN DER WALT 01:29:42.81 02:22:51.92 03:52:34.73
6 PIERS CRUICKSHANKS 01:29:43.78 02:24:52.38 03:54:36.16
7 LANCE KIME 01:29:13.09 02:26:46.29 03:55:59.39
8 MARK MULDER 01:31:53.74 02:26:35.96 03:58:29.70
9 WAYNE WILSON 01:31:48.61 02:26:51.47 03:58:40.08
10 SHAUN GRIFFIN 01:31:47.11 02:27:42.33 03:59:29.44
11 MURRAY BURGESS 01:32:54.26 02:26:54.42 03:59:48.69
12 BEN BIGGS 01:32:55.91 02:27:47.45 04:00:43.36
13 SEAN MCGUIGAN 01:30:56.14 02:29:53.83 04:00:49.97
14 ZONELE NZUZA 01:30:54.47 02:30:10.13 04:01:04.61
15 LOVEDAY ZONDI 01:33:17.81 02:27:48.91 04:01:06.72
16 SIBONELO ZONDI 01:36:45.55 02:24:26.33 04:01:11.88
17 DONAVAN WEWEGE 01:31:30.67 02:31:29.56 04:03:00.23
18 MARC GERMIQUET 01:33:20.55 02:29:59.17 04:03:19.72
19 ANDREW BIRKETT 01:33:25.58 02:30:11.75 04:03:37.33
20 KWANDA MHLOPHE 01:35:38.63 02:29:12.46 04:04:51.09
21 JOHN THEMBA NGCOBO 01:35:46.01 02:29:26.33 04:05:12.35
22 MARK USSHER 01:35:44.56 02:30:07.64 04:05:52.21
23 EMILE THEUNISSEN 01:35:37.53 02:30:18.60 04:05:56.14
24 BLAINE BERESFORD 01:36:46.45 02:29:29.53 04:06:15.99
25 DAVID CHAPLIN 01:36:14.42 02:30:33.57 04:06:47.99
26 MMELI CELE 01:33:18.95 02:33:44.24 04:07:03.19
27 NKOSIKAYISE CELE (SHANGASE) 01:35:42.69 02:31:27.25 04:07:09.95
28 MZAMO ZONDI 01:36:16.12 02:31:35.31 04:07:51.44
29 LUCAS MTHALANE 01:35:53.41 02:31:59.93 04:07:53.34
Admittedly, some of the big contenders for Dusi were absent, but the Hi-Q Midmar Mini is one of the favourite and most well attended of the pre-Dusi Races. Only 23km of racing, but it’s fast, flat-water paddling and hilly portaging, make it the perfect appetizer to gauge where your Dusi training stands.
Different to other races, the start is quite something to witness. Paddlers line up 50m behind their boats and when that start gun fires it’s a chaotic sprint to get into boats and leave the shore. I had to laugh but at the same time felt really sorry for Nhlanhla, one of my top ten potentials, when he mistakenly got into the wrong boat. Just when he was about to blast offshore, the lagging owner shouted and tipped him out. Very apologetically he corrected his mistake and headed off far behind everyone.
I too paddled, watching the race unfold from the water and keen to see what the ‘Change a life’ paddlers were going to ‘pull out the hat’ in a race well suited to their phenomenal boat-running abilities. The 10 fancy Kevlar Dusi canoes, sponsored by Best 4 Range – Sivi Gounden, have not been allocated to individuals yet, so it was important for me to get up close and see which of my boys were performing and too to see those that were not and why not?
A blistering pace was set on the first 6½km paddle with paddlers jostling for front positions. Eric Zondi joined ‘Change a life’s’ new paddling sensation, Zonele Nzuza and 2008 Dusi winner, Michael Mbanjwa on the front bunch along with two others. Kwanda, Lucas and Nkosi were working nicely in the 2nd big bunch that formed. Following them closely was Richard, Mmeli and John, mixing it up with some other competitors.
The first 3km portage was no easy feat as the paddlers exited the water at the base of a substantial hill and were instantly hit with a fierce headwind (that makes holding a boat on your shoulder almost impossible). Along with the increasing temperature, there was no where to hide from these challenging factors – which kept the racing honest.
I was excited to see Eric, Zonele and Bungi had broken away as they settled into a good consistent pace once on the water again.
Richard had an incredible portage and put in with Lucas, along with the first white paddler, Trevor Hellens – to make up the second bunch.
The next group to paddle off was Kwanda, Mmeli, Loveday Zondi and John Ngcobo. Nkosi, visiting from his coaching post in Bethlehem, trailed a 100m behind, taking strain from lack of conditioning with Dusi paddle/run sessions. Nonetheless he hung in there till the finish.
The ‘Change a Life’ Academy has had an astounding snowball effect, whereby the athletes are learning to strive for their goals from within, and not have to be continually chased. Having said that, there is always the exception – Skhumbuso is on the fringes for making the ‘Change a Life’ Team, but with a no-show today, his chances are rapidly diminishing. There could be a valid reason – I will find out.
The spectators waiting on the banks of Midmar dam in anticipation to see their husbands, brothers, mothers or daughters to come in were well impressed by the number of top positions being taken up by black paddlers.
Seven ‘Change a life’ paddlers came in the top ten overall, out of 378 paddlers - I could not have asked for more…. Well done boys!
Having trained my ‘Change a Life’ Zulus to a level that they can compete with the best, I thought 2011 should also be a year of giving those that have worked so hard, opportunities to experience the extraordinary.
The year started with a bang, with John Ntuli flying down to Cape Town on the weekend to compete in the Totalsports Challenge Terra Firma ( 50km Road Bike, 13km Road Run, 25km MTB, 9km Beach Run).
Huge Thanks to Alex Van Zyl, who fetched John from the airport, accommodated him and took care of his race logistics.
John hung in on the front bunch on the first 50km Road Bike leg, to come in 12sec off eventual winner Nico Pfitzenmaier. After a speedy transition, he sped off on the 13km Road Run, holding his own to come into the MTB transition still in the top 5. With the heat almost becoming unbearable, he tackled the Mtb, his favourite discipline. “I was working very hard, staying with the big boys, but then my back wheel burst. I bombed it a few times, but it kept going flat….,” said a despondent John afterwards.
Eventually he put a tube into the tyre, in order to be able to continue riding. “When I was fixing the puncture, the guys were just flying past, I think I was then coming twentieth”. He admitted afterwards that the MTB leg was the toughest of the four. John made up a few positions on the energy sapping 9km Beach Run, saying that it was the first time he has run on the beach. “with the waves crashing next to me, it was a lekker run, but the sand makes your legs get more tired than normal”.
Nico Pfitzenmaier of Germany took gold in the individual men’s category of the Terra Firma Challenge, crossing the finish line in an impressive time of 03hours54minutes09seconds. Adrian Enthoven came in second, while Rohan Kennedy finished third.
I believe John had an outside chance of making the podium, but now we will never know. What he learned was that Adversity lies around every corner, and its how you deal with it thats important. Sure he was super disappointed, but I was pleased to see, he took it on the chin, dealt with it and never gave up. Too many times, athletes throw in the towel in situations like this.
According to Michael Meyer, Event Organiser, the 2011 Totalsports Challenge was a huge success. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in the Terra Firma Challenge, while the competition in the team category of the Totalsports Challenge has been an endless source of excitement each year. The Totalsports Challenge will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2012 and we’re hoping to attract over 1000 entrants on the day,” says Meyer.