At the end of last year’s Dusi, Michael Mbanjwa approached “Dusi Duke’’ and adventure racer Martin Dreyer with a special request: “Partner me in the 2008 race.”
The two had first met as competitors five years previously and met each other regularly at races.
When Dreyer asked why, Mbanjwa replied, “Because I want to win the race next year.’’
“So I said, hey, no, I don’t paddle that seriously any more. I am slow. I do adventure racing … paddling isn’t a priority. But Banji (his nickname for Mbanjwa) insisted and said he was sure we could win together.’’
Dreyer, back in Cape Town after his historic Dusi win with Mbanjwa last week, is still on a high when we meet in a Constantia coffee shop. He tells me how, after winning, he could not sleep.
“When I won my first Dusi in 1999, I drove back to Cape Town from Pietermaritzburg with my medal round my neck. I was so buzzed. I didn’t need to sleep on the way back. My eyelids didn’t drop. It was exactly the same this time round. “I’m ecstatic,’’ he continues. ‘’So much effort goes into winning a big race. This race was extremely pressured, as I knew there was history to be made. I felt the pressure. When you have such a distinct goal and you are going for a win, you have to set targets along the way. So, when it all comes together, there is a huge sense of relief. You are on cloud nine.’’
When he agreed to partner Mbanjwa, Dreyer says, “I said to him it was too much pressure to paddle to win. I said paddle with me because I can teach you a lot about the race … He was happy with that.’’
A couple of weeks later, the duo did the one-day Dusi and won it. “That was that,’’ says Dreyer, his blue eyes sparkling. “We had a great time and started to get excited about the 2008 Dusi. We decided to do the doubles races together and start training seriously. We put a plan in place and set some targets.’’
The training sessions at Nagel Dam were, Dreyer believes, instrumental in their ultimate win. “It was Banji, me and his eight mates. We had some phenomenal sessions. The 10 of us would go running along the goat trails and the local paths, in between the houses.
We would set each other off, the slowest would go first, with a minute in between the next, so the slowest guy would start 10 minutes before the fastest. We would all finish together. We did the same with paddling.”
While he acknowledges that Mbanjwa learnt from him, Dreyer says “Banji taught me to keep things simple, training wise. I have often gone and trained in faraway places. This time I kept it close to home.’’Dreyer is a seven-time winner of the Dusi. His next contest is a 740 km paddling race in Alaska in June and then he will go to the World Multi-Sports Championships in Brazil in August.
The first black winner of the Dusi. Time to move on, says Michael Mbanjwa after his record-breaking paddle.
From now on he just wants to be known for his athletic abilities.
And it won’t be long before they’re put to the test. Mbanjwa won’t be resting on his laurels as he wants to conquer the Non-Stop Dusi from Pietermaritzburg to Durban on February 9 before getting down to the celebrations, which will include slaughtering a cow, in his community of the Valley of a Thousand Hills.
Mbanjwa said, after his big win, that he was surprised at the following he had garnered from his community through the sport.
“I am very happy about the victory.
“It is something I’ve wanted to achieve for the past four years and I am happy that I have realised it.
The win has opened doors for me in terms of sponsorship and it has brought joy to my community,” Mbanjwa said.
Mbanjwa, who hopes that the tag of “first black paddler to win the Dusi” will soon be overshadowed by his athletic abilities, said that he will be partnering with Dreyer for the Non-Stop Dusi, which he says he will use as a platform to cement his staying power in the sport.
“We will definitely be going for a win in this competition as well,” he said.
Asked about the heart stopping third day of the race, Mbanjwa said that it was a close one, especially after they opted for the detour as opposed to battling with the waves in Inanda dam.
The pair went around the steep hill in a record time of 25 minutes to previous records that range from 30 minutes and above.
“We opted for the steep hill because we knew that there would be less risk of our boat getting damaged and it paid off in the end because we still maintained our lead right to the finish line,” Mbanjwa added.