BMX star trades pedals for paddles

2013-01-09 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG — Feisty 53-year-old Sharlene McGillvray celebrated a sporting milestone on the calm waters of Inanda Dam on Sunday. She punched the air in delight as she finally qualified to take part in the Dusi Canoe Marathon that starts on February 14.

McGillvray is a legend in the BMX fraternity where she is the world champion in her Challenger class, and her trademark hair, dyed pink, green and yellows, reflect her bubbly personality. So how did she get lured into canoeing and trying to qualify for the Dusi?

A graphic designer, McGillvray shares an office with Shelley Bloy, the daughter of Dusi legend Lyall Wheeler, who had done the Dusi more than 40 times. Bloy approached the BMX star to see if she would be keen to try a new sporting challenge and partner her in the next Dusi marathon.

Recalls McGillvray: “I told her there was no way that I was getting into a piece of resin and going down any river, because I have a fear of water.

“Then during the 2012 Dusi I got so wrapped up with her phoning to see where Lyle and his partner Billy were. She had printed out a map of the route and placed it on my desk, so on the third day she asked me again, and before I knew it I had said ‘bring it on!’.

“Once I commit to something I go all out, so there was no turning back.”

Wheeler took McGillvray under his wing and the training started in the midwinter cold at Camps Drift. Then she graduated to novice paddles on the upper Mgeni.

There were plenty of bumps and bruises along the way, including a serious accident on a flooded Commercial Road that left her with a badly injured knee and unable to walk.

The slightly built McGillvray is totally unfazed about starting the sport at the age of 53.

“Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and work within your limits,” she says.

“I cannot believe how much I love paddling, and to think that the first time I got in a canoe [in February 2011] I was so scared. That fear has been replaced with huge respect and I still want to do sections of river like Hella Hella on the Umkomaas!”

McGillvray changes her hair colour as often as most people change clothes. Her loud voice and colourful vocabulary have made her hard to miss at Camps Drift. Now, to ring the changes, the neon shades have disappeared to be replaced by a short, snow-white peroxided hairdo.

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