Archive for February 2011

DUSI REPORT BACK….

RACING ACE ERIC ZONDI  – FOCUSING….,  SECONDS BEFORE BLASTING INTO ACTION.

What a dramatic Dusi with the closest finish ever in the history of the race – Youngster Andrew Birkett beating Ant Stott by a mere second in the final end sprint for the finish line.
Equally dramatic – ‘Change a Life’ Eric Zondi finishing 4th , ahead of previous K1 Dusi champions and paddling legends, Hank McGregor (5th) and Len Jenkins (6th). The self confidence boost this gives Eric will be that he no longer “needs to reach for the stars” but instead will believe he can set his sights on “touching them”.

Am I happy with my Change a Life Zulu’s performance? Definitely Yes.

Am I disappointed with my Change a Life Zulu’s final results? Yes, but no more than my boys – only because I know what could have been, especially after they set themselves up so spectacularly on Day 1 – 4 in the top 10, 8 in the top 14, 10 in the top 18. As the late Dusi legend Graeme Pope-Ellis used to say “The Dusi is won on Day 1, but lost on Day 2 & 3”. Meaning, to have any chance of obtaining a great result, you have to be in contention on Day 1 and then hold it together for the following two days.
A great result was poised on a knife edge, but as in life, things don’t always go your way.

MART & JUNIOR MMELI CELE

I feel sick in the pit of my stomach when I think of my Junior paddler Mmeli Cele’s misfortune in the race – let me explain. He lives in the smallest mud house with no running water or electricity and yet under these circumstances raced himself into 16th position overall and first junior (5 min lead) on Day 1. Day 2 saw his race slip away forever as he took an unfortunate swim and broke his boat, unable to continue. The R9000 possible first Junior prize was not to be. Imagine the value it would have added to his family’s lives. Asked by a kind spectator who gave him a lift out the Valley, what he would he would have taken from the prize money. He answered “buy myself a pair of jeans”.

SOME OF TEAM CHANGE A LIFE AFTER DAY 1 – Nkosi is on my left

Now his brother Nkosi Cele had a phenomenal Day 1, finishing 12th overall. Come Day 2 – negotiating the notorious Tombi rapid, he had no choice but to plough into another paddler and his boat that were being recycled at the bottom of the drop in the suck-back of the stopper wave. The consequences were distrastrous, boat broken, he limped home to place 73rd overall. With the misfortune that befell his brother and also knowing that he was unlikely to place in the top 50, he was emotional, tears rolled down his cheeks as he explained the day’s happenings. “Nkosi” I said, “ Graeme Pope-Ellis died last year, he would have loved to be racing this race. You only took a swim and broke your boat, so what! You can still race. Things could be alot worse. Forget about what happened and do your best tomorrow. I’ll tell you what – I will ignore today (Day 2) and see where you come tomorrow (Day 3). Then I will take your average position for the two days”. Cut a long story short, he had the 8th fastest time on Day 3. So in my books he came an incredible 10th overall.

BORN TO RUN…. THE GUYS LOVE THE PORTAGES

Here’s the blow by blow story what unfolded with the other ‘Change a Life’ Zulus. At the blast of the start Canon…. 9 of the ‘Change a Life’ athletes lined up on front row in A-Batch, 2 in the second row and 1 in the third row….

FINDING YOUR BOAT IN THE “PICK UP STICKS”….

ERIC ZONDI…. RACING SNAKE OF NOTE….

ERIC NEGOTIATING TOPS NEEDLE RAPID….

4th – Eric raced flawlessly, guiding his boat nimbly through the technical rapids and running swiftly on the portages to finish an incredible 3rd overall, 35 seconds ahead of Day 1 favourite and training partner, Michael Mbanjwa (Bungi). Although Bungi passed him on Day 2, I was amazed how he handled the big water, especially with the added pressure of paddling legends Hank McGregor & Len Jenkins hunting him down. Len had the second fastest time on Day 2. Day 3 saw Eric come into his own, focussed and determined to not make any mistakes, he didn’t allow Hank to gain any time on him. Capitalising on a blistering run over Burma Hill, he secured his most deserving 4th position overall, showing he can compete with the best. A most deserving result for all the hard work he put in – Congrats Eric.

KWANDA STARTING THE FINGERNECK PORTAGE….

KWANDA IN THE BIG WATER….

11th – Kwanda raced smoothly through Day 1 and Day 2, finishing 11th on both occasions. With a strong run over Burma he punched into the top 9 , but the conservative option of portaging the feared Pumphouse weirs saw him slip back to 11th.
 

THOMAS – ALL FOCUS IN TOPS NEEDLE RAPID….

12th – Thomas had drama at the bottom of Earnie Pearce Weir, only a few minutes into the race – dropping to 40th position. He put in a Herculean effort, to make a miraculous recovery in the second half of the race and finished 7th overall. Thomas had a dismal Day 2 (placing 26th for the day, time wise and dropping him to 12th overall), taking 3 swims in the swollen River, of which he said, “two of my swims were so silly, the rapid was small, doesn’t even have a name”. Thomas took the day’s blows on the chin and crossed the line with his usual radiant smile. Asking him how his day was? He answered, “Mart, today ‘Change a Life’ had a rough day”. I couldn’t agree with him more. Day 3 too saw Thomas push into the top 10 after a powerful Burma Hill portage, similarly to Kwanda, he portaged Pumphouse weirs and dropped back to 12th.
 

NHLANHLA CAUTIOUSLY APPROACHING GAUGING WEIR….

JOHN STEERING THROUGH THE APPROACHES TO UMZINYATHI RAPID….

 NHLANHLA & JOHN SHOWING OFF THEIR HARD EARNED FINISHERS MEDALS….

13th – Nhlanhla, 15th – John, 17th – Zonele  &  18th  –  Richard, had credible results. Nhlanhla and John  finished 9th & 10th respectively on Day 1, with Zonele 12th. I was disappointed with Richard, as he finished 13th overall in the 2009 Dusi, and was in great shape, and came 17th on Day 1, which I suppose isn’t a bad result considering he had tree swims – starting at Earnie Pearce weir, then Taxi rapid(where someone clipped his rudder).

RICHARD GUNNING IT ON THE PORTAGE….

RICHARD TAKING A SNEAKY LINE….

For these four paddlers, Day 2’s flooding river was their nemesis. Not ever having had the opportunity to practice on such a full river, the gnarly turbulent water got the better of them and their nerves after a couple of swims. With their confidence in tatters, they went into survival mode to get to the end. In their defence, the dams have not flowed since the last Dusi (and that was a normal level) and so all tripping has been on a marginal river level – water coming from runoff from the mountains streams.

ZONELE CALMLY TACKLING UMZINYATHI….

To cover the loop hole of inadequate big white-water experience, next years preparation will need to include paddling on the mighty Umkomaas river.

LUCAS DIGGING DEEP ON CAMPBELLS PORTAGE….

22nd – Lucas  toiled on Day 1, but nonetheless finished 13th. He complained that someone had pulled the energy plug out his body, as he felt flat.- similarly to Bungi. A couple of swims on Day 2 didn’t make things any easier, and he slid down to 21st. It was unlike Lucas not to look forward to Burma Hill on Day 3, as running was one of his strengths. Once again, he said “No energy”, and bravely hung onto 22nd position overall. I know Lucas was not himself as he was fitter than the last singles Dusi, where he placed 10th overall – maybe Bilharzia, will get him tested?

NOTHING LIKE A DUSI BABE TO WASH AWAY THE HARDSHIP OF THE DAY….

24th – Skhumbuso  has improved immensely since the last singles Dusi in 2009, where he placed 72nd overall. In that year he didn’t make it into my selected ‘Change a Life’ Team. Not fond of portaging with a boat, I was impressed with his 26th Day 1 finish. Day 2 saw him swim only once, to finish 28th. Then a digging deep into his reserves, saw him “pull the rabbit out the hat” on Burma Hill and he finished a fantastic 24th overall.
42nd – Mzamo  is one of the youngsters of the race and did his level best to maintain a top 50 position. Well done.

COMPUTERSHARE LADIES MNANDI & URSULA, ERIC & MART

Its important for my ‘Change a Life’ Academy that the sponsors see/feel/believe in it. Its one thing sending them a written report of what happened, but actually having them at the finish line was just the best – seeing Ursula & Mnandi (having just flown down from Jhb), waving excitedly and shouting encouragement to my exhausted Zulus as they crossed the finish line, having given their all – made me very happy.
And so too did the boys felt so special that they had come all the way from Johannesburg that Day just to see them.

‘CHANGE A LIFE’  TEAM WITH SPONSORS AND SUPPORT CREW

So with two of my top 20 boys breaking their canoes on a very full Day 2 (Mmeli out the race and the Nkosi dropping to 74th overall) my final tally was   9 ‘Change a Life’ paddlers in the top 24 including a highly commendable 4th place overall.

Could well have been 11 in the top 24, but that’s Dusi…., no comments in the results sheet.

Thanks must go to Computershare, USN, Hi-Tec for their renewed commitment/support of my ‘Change a Life’ Academy going into 2011, and to Sivi Gounden -“Best 4 you” for sponsoring 20 awesome canoes for Dusi. Then also to my support Team on the ground at Dusi – Paddy, Tex, Anita & Craig, Iain, my ‘Change a Life’ boys – John Ntuli and Sizwe and last but not least – Jeans.

 SOME OF THE 50 MOMS,DADS, BROTHERS & SISTERS THAT ARRIVED AT THE END TO WATCH THEIR LOVED ONES FINISH

WHEEL BEARING SHOT….

It wasn’t plain sailing post race to get home as the wheel bearing broke on the boat trailer. So whilst waiting for another trailer (3hrs later), I took the guys to KFC for a much needed overload of Calories.

I need to shoulder some responsibility of not being there on Day 2 for my ‘Change a Life’ Team, to have given them valuable instructions/information on the Ngumeni portage – what to do at Tombi & Hippo rapid etc….. Instead I had to fly to Jhb after the Day 1 finish, to attend the Virgin Active Sports Industry Awards – http://www.sportindustry.co.za/awards/winners/?Id=32#

I was nominated for one of four programs under the “Best Grassroots development Programme”. It was a fancy Black tie occasion at Emperors Palace. My sponsors thought it best that I attend this occasion, as the exposure here could have real positive spin-offs for my Academy and it was important to be present in case ‘Change a Life’ won.  Missing Day 2  – thanks must go to Paddy, Iain and Anita for shouldering the seconding responsibilities here and to Tex for taking my photo/journalist, Jacques Marais on a 4×4 route off the beaten track, to capture that perfect shot.
It was a monumentous occasion, with the Who’s who present – from Danny Jordaan, Ali Bacher, Lucas Radebe, Natalie Du Toit, Elana Meyer, Surfer/model Roxy Louw, Brian Mitchell, Ryk Neethling, Roeland Schoeman, Blade Runner – Oscar Pistorius, to some protea cricket players like Jacques Rudolph and Albie Morkel and some springbuck Rugby players including Naas Botha, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger. Also World Tennis Champion – Mary Pearce, Boxing World Champion – Ricky Hatton, World 100m Champion – Linford Christie and even SA’s tennis star from the past Kevin Curren and so the who’s who list goes on….
It was a super occasion and great to see Hi-Tec winning the best use of Digital Communications in Sport with their ‘Liquid Mountaineering’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKqqMeJzXpo

However in hindsight, would I have attended these awards in Lieu of my ‘Change a Life’ Zulus racing Dusi – I think not….

Unlimited Dusi Marathon – Day 1


ERIC ZONDI MAKING WAVES ON DAY 1 OF THE DUSI

Four months of hard training have finally borne fruit on Day 1 of the Unlimited Dusi Marathon. 

It was quite something to second my Zulus as they were so tightly packed in the overall top 20 positions.  Eric Zondi had a phenomenal day, finishing 3rd.  Thomas Ngidi comfortably made the top 10 despite an early set back as he spun out at the first obstacle, the Ernie Pearce Weir.  He chased from behind and managed to get back into 7th by the end of the day.  Brothers Richard and Nhlanhla Cele reversed last year’s roles as Richard, through no fault of his own, paddled into Nhlanhla, tipped his own canoe and took an early swim.  Nhlanhla was taking no prisoners and shot off to eventually take a very creditable 9th position while his brother fought his way back up the field to 17th.   John Ngcobo was like a rock, maintaining an even keel and with his consistent pace followed Nhlanhla into 10th.

Then it was just a wave of back and orange – Kwanda, Nkosikayise, Zonele and Lucas in 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th positions – streaming across the line.  Two canoes later Mmeli Cele, an up and coming Change a Lifer, pipped Richard to the post for 16th.  His performance put him into the lead in the Under 18 Division, over 3 minutes ahead of the rest of his fields “big name” school kids.

I know it is only Day 1 and my Change a Lifers’ strongest day at that, but what a great position to be in. I see Lance Kime and Hank McGregor working hard at moving up but my guys won’t go down without a fight.

Ursula du Plooy, Executive Director of Computershare was really sorry that she wasn’t able to make it to the riverside this year.  “Watching from the banks of the river in previous years, I can see just how much it takes and what a monumental effort is needed to finish this tough race.  It just goes to show how dedicated to training our Change a Life paddlers are and how committed to excelling.”

As it turned out, the major casualty of the day was Jacques Marais, our photographer, who took an impromptu swim twenty minutes after the start – Jacques managed to struggle to the bank, but his camera wasn’t so lucky! 

DUSI – LESS THAN 24HRS….

RACING SNAKE ERIC ZONDI DOING LAST MINUTE CHECKS….

Having been involved for two Dusi’s with my “Change a Life” Team, you would think by now, all would be running smoothly like a ‘well oiled machine’.
I honestly have to say, it’s just the opposite. Yes – the Team has a higher fitness level, Yes – we are more prepared with river knowledge, Yes – the boys have fancy Kevlar Kayaks. But where it has gone voluntarily pear shaped is the allowance/inclusion of attention to detail – providing custom drinking systems to individual athletes, grooming of paths, supporter T-shirts, special food, detailed route analysis etc…. In my opinion, all a necessity to obtain the best result – so no complaints from my side….

Boat Handover- From Left [Ken Holden, Zonele, Richard, Mmeli, Eric,Lucas, Mart, Sivi, Nkosi, Kwanda &  Nhlanhla

“Best 4 you” Sivi Gounden came down to Nagle Dam the other day to do an official handover of the fancy smancy kevlar kayaks/paddles he sponsored my ‘Change a Life’ team. Interesting story – Sivi competed his first Dusi in 1985 alongside the late Robert Lembethe (the pioneer of Development Canoeing), and if he completes this 2011 Dusi (which he should as he is paddling with the super experienced Kayak Centre boat manufacturer – Ken Holden), that will put him at the top of the list as a Development person with the most Dusi titles to his name. Thanks a mil Sivi.

KWANDA – SHARPENING THE CUTTING KNIVES….

Grooming running paths in the days leading up to Dusi is a must if you are fleet of foot. Logic behind this – the top athletes who are weaker runners don’t mind the paths being overgrown and ‘slow’, as it hinders the faster runners making up time here. Needless to say, we did a lot of thornbush pruning and where there required some real hard manuel labour, many volunteed, but it was best that I do the deed – Dusi is too close for such exertion. We had a good laugh when one of the guys chirped – “Come Mart, dig harder…. this is the new South Africa”. It was priceless – group of Black guys watching a whitey doing manual labour.

WHAT A PLEASURE TO BURN SOME CALORIES….

Twenty one Zulus are booked into Umphiti Backpackers tonight, close to the Dusi start. The menu for tonight’s meal has been entrusted to Kwanda Mhlophe – hopefully he doesn’t forget the magic ingredients – as long as there is lots, it will be a guaranteed success….

LUCAS AT HOME, WITH HIS SISTER & MOTHER IN THE BACKGROUND….

Yesterday, ATV productions visited some of the boys at their homes to get some pre Dusi hype – Lucas said “Watchout for Eric Zondi, Thomas Ngidi and Zonele Nzuza, but don’t forget Kwanda Mhlophe, brothers Richard & Nhlanhla Cele, John Ngcobo and junior Mmeli Cele, Oh…. and myself”.
These Change a Lifers that Lucas has mentioned will all be lining up on the front row of A-Batch tomorrow morning. At the 6am start, when Ian Player imitates the call of the Fish Eagle, their heart rate will jump 20 beats, and seconds later upon the blast of the traditional start Cannon, they will hold nothing back, giving absolute everything their lean wiry muscled body’s can offer. Tackling the steep gruelling Cabbage Tree portage at the end of Day 1, they will dig even deeper into their inner reserves, begging their burning legs not to fail them now as muscles twitch with signs of cramp…. Whatever adversity is dealt to the paddlers tomorrow and hopefully there is (eg- heat wave….), the ‘Change a Life’ Zulus will embrace it – because they know that if they deal with it better than their oponents, they will be ‘ahead of the Curve‘.

Let the battle begin….

Last but not least – Huge thanks to Computershare “Change a Life”, USN and Hi-Tec, for their committed ongoing support of the  Martin Dreyer “Change a Life”Academy. Without your input, none of this would be possible – THANK YOU!