Dusi legend returns

2015-02-18 00:00

ONE of the real “Iron Men” of the Dusi Canoe Marathon will be back on the start line tomorrow morning, ready to tackle his 36th Dusi. But for 66-year-old Cape Town-based personal trainer Andre Hawarden, this year’s race has deep ­significance as it honours the race’s ­legendary founder Dr Ian Player, who died in November 2014.

Hawarden became intrigued by ­Player’s early efforts in the Dusi and went on to become one of the race’s icons of 1970’s and 80s.

His return in 2015 will be just his ­second appearance in 15 years and the former Maritzburg College pupil cannot wait to get back onto the waters of the Msundusi and Umgeni rivers.

“I’m so excited I can barely breathe,” said Hawarden. “I can’t wait to see my old buddies again. Sadly, many are no longer around but that makes the whole thing more special.

“Ian Player, and subsequently the ­Dusi, was the major formative influence on my life. If I hadn’t read his book and done the Dusi, my life would have been completely different.”

Ten former Dusi winners — including defending K1 champion Lance Kime and 2014’s K2 winning combination of Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Khwela — are set to tackle this year’s race and in Hawarden, they will be in the company of one of the race’s toughest ever competitors.

“Andre Hawarden was the toughest and hardest paddler I ever met,” said Lyle Wheeler, a veteran of 43 consecutive Dusi Canoe Marathons. “He was one of my heroes in the early days. He was a legend of the race and still is.

“He had the ability to push himself hard, harder than any other athlete in the race. I recall one race where he had run so hard on a portage that when he got down to the river he got into the boat facing backwards. That’s how delirious he was after running so hard.”

Hawarden’s history with the Dusi is long and fascinating, but the hard-man of the 1970s and 80s never won the ­overall title.

After the race changed rules in 1970 to allow for K1s to compete as individual entries instead of in pairs, Hawarden was a regular thorn in the side of Dusi King Graeme Pope-Ellis and other elite racers.

Despite never winning the race, ­Hawarden won five K1 class titles in 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979 and 1980.

Another change to the rules in 1981 allowed female and black paddlers to ­participate for the first time and this ­signalled Hawarden shifting his competitive focus as he and his wife Daphne — the first woman to ever finish the Dusi — took up the challenge, paddling as a mixed double.

The partnership was successful and while the depth of the class may have been questionable, five class wins from 1981-1985 and overall results of 16th, 13th, 21st, 19th and 25th verified their ­remarkable strength.

Despite his lengthy absence, Hawarden has spent time in recent months watching videos and reading on the various obstacles of the Dusi route. He believes he is ready for the tough, yet exciting assignment that awaits.

The 64th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban from Thursday to Saturday, ­February 19-21.

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