South African paddling icon Thulani Mbanjwa hopes to overcome an untimely injury to push for yet another top 10 finish at this year’s Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon which takes place from Grassridge Dam to Cradock Sports Complex on 7 and 8 October.
The widely recognised Mbanjwa, who became the first black paddler to win the Dusi Canoe Marathon when he and Martin Dreyer raced to K2 glory in 2008, is a regular amongst the gold medals at the Eastern Cape major, which doubles as the South African K1 River Marathon Championships in 2016, and the 33 year-old Valley of a Thousand Hills star hopes to clinch another gold in early October.
“The Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Western Cape in July was quite disappointing for me as I pinched a nerve in my lower back on day one,” explains the Build it/Williams Hunt athlete.
“I wasn’t able to paddle much for a while after that but I have been trying to get things going again recently.
“I can still feel my injury if I sit in the boat for two hours or more without getting out, but my fitness is improving and I’m starting to feel much better again.
“I will definitely still try race for a top ten at Fish; one mistake and that could be my chance gone though, so it will be a tough two days of racing but I’m really looking forward to the contest.”
Despite his injury impeding his ability to stay seated for extended periods of time and the first stage’s record being just short of three hours, Mbanjwa doesn’t believe this will hamper his Fish assault.
“Day one is the longer of the two days at Fish but there is the portage around the dam wall shortly after the start of the day and then another one a little bit later on.
“These will give me the chance to stand up and stretch my legs so I won’t be sitting for three hours straight and so I don’t think my injury will be a problem at Fish.”
Mbanjwa, together with his fellow Lembethe Canoe Club members Nhlanhla Cele, Siyanda Gwamanda and Mpilo Zondi, clinched the Delta Motor Corporation Trophy for winning the Club section at the 2015 Hansa Fish.
While many of Mbanjwa’s Lembethe team mates won’t be making the journey down to Cradock this time around, the paddling stalwart reflects fondly on their 2015 achievement.
“It is a pity we won’t be able to try defend the Club trophy we won last year at this year’s Fish,” says Mbanjwa.
“Winning that trophy was huge for Lembethe Canoe Club and must be one of our club’s biggest achievements, especially because it was at the Fish, which is a paddling race not a running race.
“We are often known as Dusi specialists but the Fish has the biggest rapids in the country other than the Umkomaas, so we are very proud of this achievement.”
As Mbanjwa pins his ears back to prepare himself over the final two weeks before this year’s Hansa Fish, the Build it/Williams Hunt ace is also bracing himself for another titanic tussle at the front of the field.
“I’m going full out for these next two weeks; there won’t be any tapering for me!” chuckles Mbanjwa.
“The field at this year’s Fish will make it another very difficult race; all the top guys will be there and so the pace will be very high, just as it always is.”
The 2016 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon takes place from Grassridge Dam to Cradock Sports Complex on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 October.