Teacher Graham thrilled to learn off star pupil Birkett

2010-01-25 00:00

TEACHERS don’t always make the best pupils, but Jason Graham has been more than happy to feed off the budding star that is Andrew Birkett, and those lessons produced a stunning Dusi Marathon success on Saturday.

Former Maritzburg College teacher Graham and fellow Old Boy Birkett defied the odds to win an epic Dusi battle from hot favourites Michael Mbanjwa and Ant Stott, who is also a product of College.

“You know, I was a teacher when Andy was at the school,” Graham said, in self-mockery of his advancing years.

“Andy even asked me to do the Dusi with him when he was in Standard 7, but I laughed him off and told him he had some growing to do,” he added.

And grow he did, to such an extent that he is now the youngest Dusi winner in history.

Ant Stott had said in a television interview last week that “a dark horse like Jason and Andrew may surprise us all and win it”, but most took that as a ploy to deflect some attention away from his own “dream team” with Mbanjwa.

But the power-paddler seems to have turned prophet, as that same dark filly stomped all over Stott and Mbanjwa’s parade to snatch a riveting 2010 Dusi crown.

“I think this is a result of some bloody hard work and dedication,” Graham said after the triumph.

Having tried for years to get a podium, the 31-year-old has been galvanised by the energy and tenacity of Birkett (19), and the impact has been startling.

“There is a lesson there on finding the right partner. You need to do this race with someone that you can get along with and, luckily for us, we have been friends for a long time.”

While all the hype focused on their more stellar rivals, the duo slipped happily under the radar, but they said that they were always quietly confident.

Having set off with a top 10 finish in mind, their excellent preparation saw them set their sights that much higher.

“Andy, being the sort of person that he is, said to me about three weeks ago that we should actually try and win it,” Graham revealed.

Birkett paid tribute to Graham’s dedication, recalling how they would wake up in the wee hours in order to hone their skills on the river.

“He used to try and steal an extra 15 minutes of sleep, and then I would give him just five!” he jokingly added.

“But as we grew stronger, there was no lack of motivation to get up in the morning, because we felt that we were on to something.”

Beaming from ear to ear, Birkett said they also had an incredible amount of faith in one another’s specific talents.

“Even when we both fell and lost time at Burma, Jason was shouting at me: ‘We can still do this, we can catch them!’” Birkett reflected.

Still in his teens, Birkett has impressed all and sundry with his ability under immense pressure, and he will never again be underestimated.

The winning pair have no concrete plans yet, but Graham said that he was “humbled” by Birkett’s suggestion that they should do it all again in two years’ time.

Whether that materialises or not, they will always have 2010.

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