Paddling world mourns ‘King’

2010-06-19 00:00

GRAEME Pope-Ellis’s son, Lee, was one of many people involved in the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands paddling communities to pay tribute to the “Pope”, as he was known by his peers.

“My dad is going to be remembered for his sporting achievements, but for us he will be remembered for being a fantastic father, husband, brother and uncle,” Lee said.

“He always had time to listen and offered such good advice.”

Lee said he first learnt about his father’s achievements when he was 10 years old through his classmates, as his father would never speak of his own accomplishments. “He was just incredibly humble,” said Lee.

A spokesperson for the Dusi Canoe Marathon and a friend of Pope-Ellis, Ray de Vries, said all those close to the “Dusi King” are devastated by the sudden loss.

“Graeme meant so much to the sporting community and not just the paddling community,” he said.

“Winning 15 out of 46 Dusis shows you the mettle of a man like that. He really was a standout guy.”

De Vries spent time with Pope-Ellis just last week, when the pair took part in the Unlimited Dusi Mfula Mountain Biking event that saw participants ride along the ­Dusi Canoe Marathon route.

“He was telling me how much he was enjoying the ride,” said De Vries. “He was in such high spirits.”

Chairperson of the Natal Canoe Club Cameron Mackenzie was equally shaken by the tragic news.

“I don’t think his shoes will ever be filled. His dominance of the sport is something that will never be repeated,” he said.

“One could not find a more dignified champion if they tried. It hasn’t even sunk in yet.”

Tim Cornish, who won the Dusi four times with Pope-Ellis, hailed his team-mate’s ability.

“He was absolutely meticulous in his preparation,” Cornish said.

“I only had to train and paddle with him. Tactics, local knowledge, equipment and preparation were all taken care of. He was amazing.”

Martin Dreyer, who was coached by Pope-Ellis and has won seven Dusis, remembers the influence Pope-Ellis had on his career.

“When I arrived on the scene in 1998 with serious plans to get into the top 10, no one really wanted to help because I was a threat. But not Graeme,” Dreyer said.

“He took me into his home for months, and showed me everything he knew about the race.”

Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the Dusi Canoe Marathon and it has already been confirmed that the 2011 race will be dedicated to Pope-Ellis.

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