A paddling record, Gudgie is going for his 40th consecutive Dusi

2014-02-13 00:00

FORMER Natal flyhalf Graeme “Gudgie” Dixon will start the Dusi Canoe marathon this morning with a unique milestone ahead of him as he sets out to become the first paddler to complete 40 consecutive Dusis.

The quietly spoken chicken farmer is poised to accomplish something that even the great “Dusi King” Graeme Pope-Ellis couldn’t do, and finish every single Dusi for four decades.

“It is a ritual for me. They say that once you have done one Dusi, you have Dusi water in your brains,” said a clearly excited Dixon as he prepares to do his second Dusi with his daughter Sarah.

Over the 39 years he has seven singles Dusis to his name, and has shared the experience of the 120 kilometres to Durban with his brothers, David and Stuart, and three with former Springbok and Natal skipper Wynand Claasen.

It all started with an eager Dixon seeing the paddlers leaving the Dusi start at Alexandra park as a wide-eyed five-year-old. At Maritzburg College he grabbed the chance to take part in the Dusi for the first time as a 16-year-old in 1975, and has done the race every year since then.

“It was a great way to stay in shape during my rugby playing years for Natal,” said Dixon, who starred in the black and white jersey from 1983 to 1986.

“The Dusi is such an adventure,” says Dixon. “It’s not about trying to win prizes, but about challenging yourself every year.

“The camaraderie is fantastic and every­one helps one another along. It’s all about taking part and taking in the whole experience,” says Dixon.

His enviable record of finishing every single Dusi that he has entered is remarkable. But might have been shattered early on in his career when he broke their K2 canoe within a kilometre of the race start, in the rapid below Commercial Road in Pietermaritzburg.

“That year we had borrowed a mould from the late Jimmy Potgieter, but it was a disaster,” recalls Dixon.

“It was shaped like a banana and we wrapped it badly right below the weir. It took us seven hours each day to get to Durban, with my brother running on the bank while I paddled the broken boat. But we got there in about 21 hours!”

Dixon loves the thrill of the rapids, but has a sage view on the more dangerous ones.

“I am wary of rapids like Thombi and Washing Machine, and when it is full the Confluence section deserves respect,” says Dixon.

His paddling longevity is even more remarkable given that he underwent a knee replacement three years ago.

“I was able to do my rehab and be back for the Dusi the next year,” recalls Dixon.

“The Dusi has become such an important part of my life.

“Every year you feel the butterflies, and the pressure feels like the very first one that I did but that’s what makes it enjoyable and rewarding, and gives you that sense of achievement,” the Dusi veteran said.

For Dixon, his 39th Dusi finish, with his daughter, who is part of a contingent of girls from The Wykeham Collegiate doing the race, was one of his proudest Dusi moments.

“I had goose flesh sharing that moment with my daughter, and it took me right back to the feelings I had when I finished my first one.”

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