Awesome in the true sense of the word

2010-06-19 00:00

I AM staring at an empty computer screen, my mind swirling with memories of Graeme Pope-Ellis, and frankly I am feeling very emotional.

It is over 20 years since I spent a packed seven months talking to Graeme, making notes, going over rough drafts, polishing words before a looming deadline, the next Dusi Canoe Marathon.

Many people knew Graeme as a man at a deeper level than I did; and many paddlers understood his canoeing prowess better than I did.

So what can I say about him?

He said something to his first winning partner, Eric Clarke, that has given me courage to face difficulties. He said: “We have got to shoot Tops Needle”.

Veteran paddlers will know exactly what this short phrase meant in 1972.

No one had ever shot Tops Needle in a race. It was far too risky. It was a rapid that chewed up boats. But Pope-Ellis and Clarke were four minutes behind the leaders at the start of the final leg.

So they shot it, and it made all the difference. They won their first Dusi.

Another thing I remember about Graeme: we were driving around the Valley of a Thousand Hills looking at various key places when a young local stopped to talk to us. He looked at me for a long moment, noting the grey in my beard, then said, “This man is too old to race with you”. Hardly pausing, Graeme replied, “No, he is very strong.”

I know that I would not have been so kind. I wish I had put that in the book I wrote about Pope-Ellis.

But I did indicate that he had a great affection and respect for the people of the valley.

Another memory: Graeme several times said: “You should also write about the fish- and-chips paddlers; without them there would be no race.”

But I was a journalist and to me Graeme was the story.

As an athlete, Graeme Pope-Ellis was awesome in the true sense of that word; as a man, I’m sure he had faults, but I never saw them; I found him humble and kind.

The King is dead. And there will be no successor to the throne.

Clive Lawrance is the author of Graeme Pope-Ellis: The Dusi King.


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