Sbonelo Zondi’s fairytale river marathon season continued on Friday when he and partner Hank McGregor claimed a commanding victory in the Non-Stop Dusi, the gruelling one-day version of South Africa’s famous Dusi Canoe Marathon.
The “Dusi in a day” sees paddlers make their way from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban, along a similar route to that of the iconic Dusi Canoe Marathon, in just a single day.
Having clinched the Dusi title just two weeks earlier with EuroSteel partner Andy Birkett, Zondi teamed up with McGregor, a triple canoe marathon world champion, on the evening before the race before going on to claim a rare Dusi and Non-Stop Dusi double.
“It is just unbelievable to have won both the Dusi and the Non-Stop Dusi this year,” said a thrilled Zondi afterwards.
“I’m especially happy because Andy (Birkett) and I worked so, so hard before Dusi and so it’s really nice to enjoy the rewards now!
“I would also like the thank Hank for agreeing to be my partner right at the last minute, as well as our seconding crew. Without them we probably would have been tempted to have pulled out at some point today,” he added with a weary smile.
For McGregor, who took the event by storm in 2006 when he became the first person to win in a K1, the win is his second Non-Stop Dusi title.
“It is really hard to explain how much pain we went through, especially going over Burma Road portage,” said McGregor.
“It was an honour to paddle with Sbonelo today. He was just so strong, and now I know exactly why he won the Dusi this year. He deserved it.”
After Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa closed the gap between themselves and McGregor and Zondi to just 20 seconds at the bottom of the Nqumeni Hill portage, McGregor and Zondi knew they were going to have to dig deep in order to shake their rivals.
“Hank was unreal on the water from Nqumeni to the Inanda Dam wall,” said Zondi. “We knew that was when we were going to have to push to try get well ahead of Lance and Bungee (Mbanjwa).
“Hank really pushed me on the water and I tried to push on the portages,” he added.
Despite the valley’s heat, a medium to low water level convinced McGregor and Zondi to make the brave decision to run the notorious Burma Road portage, a decision which reaped its rewards, but not without much suffering along the way.
“We made a few mistakes below Inanda Dam and so I said to Sbonelo that we had to go over (Burma Road,” said McGregor. “It was unbelievably tough and I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see Durban’s surf.
Despite finishing over 12 minutes behind the leaders, second placed Kime and Mbanjwa put in a stellar effort and pushed the leaders for much of the first half of the contest.
‘It was tight until Nqumeni’
“Hank and Sbonelo were just stronger than us today,” said a humble Kime afterwards. “It was tight until Nqumeni, but once they got away they just stretched and stretched their lead and there was simply no catching them.”
“The Non-Stop Dusi is such a tough race,” added Mbanjwa. “Just when you think you’ve prepared for the race it just keeps getting harder and harder.”
The first of a horde of Martin Dreyer’s Computershare Change a Life Academy crews across the line was third placed Zonele Nzuza and Nhlanhla Cele, who occupied the position for the majority of the long day.
Kelvin Trautman and his partner David Wood got better and better as the day went on and, having picked off their nearest rivals one at a time, eventually crossed the line in fourth place ahead of Computershare Change a Life’s Kwanda Mhlophe and Mmeli Cele.
The women’s race was a ding-dong battle for much of the early part of the encounter as the Adie twins, Abby and Alex, went up against Robyn Kime in her K1.
The Adies, however, managed to edge ahead for the first time at Mission Rapid and, aided by Kime picking up a hole in the bottom of her boat, managed to steadily pull away and make the title their own.
“It really is so special to have won with my sister, especially after my Dusi disappointment,” said Abby, who was a close second in the Dusi.
“We didn’t have a single problem the whole day. We couldn’t have asked for a better day,” she added.
The pre-race banter between the mixed doubles entrants added a little extra motivation for the top crews with the Jacques and Jen Theron chuffed to have beaten Shaun Griffin and Hilary Bruss across the line.
“We had such fun up until 15 kilometres to go, then it wasn’t any fun anymore,” laughed Jen Theron afterwards.
Travis Wilson was the first K1 to finish after a last minute surge five kilometers from the finish line took him past Siboniso Shozi.
“I came into the race hoping just to try stay with either Mark Mulder or Marc Germiquet for as long as I possibly could before looking to just finish,” said the first year under-23 star.
“I never ever actually even considered trying to be the first K1 home.
“It was such an incredibly long day out there today. I nearly cried three times in the last few kilometres. I was just emotionally and physically drained, but it’s awesome to have been the first K1 across the line,” he concluded.
- Hank McGregor/Sbonelo Zondi 7:44.45
- Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa 8:06.11
- Zonele Nzuza/Nhlanhla Cele 8:19.39
- Kelvin Trautman/David Wood 8:24.40
- Kwanda Mhlophe/Mmeli Cele 8:31.17
- Andrew Houston/Carl Folscher 8:46.33
- Thomas Ngidi/Banesti Nkhoesa 8:52.01
- Jacques Theron/Jen Theron (Mixed) 8:53.18
- Abby Adie/Alex Adie (Women) 8:53.50
- Travis Wilson (K1) 8:59.52
- Abby Adie/Alex Adie 8:53.50
- Robyn Kime (K1) 9:19.57
- Jacques Theron/Jen Theron 8:53.18
- Shaun Griffin/Hilary Bruss 9:27.12
- Ross O’Donoghue/Laura O’Donoghue 9:42.53
- Travis Wilson 8:59.52
- Siboniso Shozi 9:01.31
- Marc Germiquet 9:07.13
- Mhlonishwa Hlongwane 9:19.56
- Robyn Kime (Women) 9:19.57