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!