A 12-MEMBER team of pupils from schools in Inanda township north of Durban are raring to tackle their most gruelling race yet. Chosen for the first ever canoeing training programme for the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (Samsa) Change a Life Academy, they will be groomed by former Dusi winner Martin Dreyer to become potential participants in the world famous Dusi Canoe Marathon in February next year. Canoeist Lazola Phangeni (12), a pupil at Hlengimpilo Primary School which is near Inanda Dam, said she had been training for the past three months. “After school I practice for about two hours for four days a week,” she beamed. For this Grade 7 pupil, it has always been her dream to canoe professionally. But it has not been an easy start for her. “I was scared to participate in the sport because people kept telling me water was infested with snakes and crocodiles. That made me very scared.” Lazola realised she had to ignore the critics if she wanted to reach her goal. “I want to stay away from bad things such as drugs and dating at an early age. My parents have been very supportive of what I’m doing.” Another young canoe enthusiast is the 18-year-old Sphamandla Shozi from Mqhawe Secondary School. Shozi boasts three years of experience and all thanks to a canoeist neighbour who planted the seed of interest in him. “There’s a guy named S’bongiseni Nxumalo who was a canoeist. We used to watch him do his thing in water but I never thought I could also do it. “One day he approached us and then he taught us everything we know now”. Shozi said the sport has taught him discipline and the importance of teamwork. “When the other member’s boat capsizes, and the coach is far ahead, then we help that member lest he drowns.” The canoeists come from various schools, including Hlengimpilo Primary School, KaGence Primary School, Mbheki High School, Matebetula Primary School, Mqhawe High School, Sthabile High and the Abalindi Orphanage. Dreyer said the programme is designed to uplift the community. “The kids learn life skills and we are using Inanda Dam as an existing set-up to support and prepare them for the Dusi Marathon and other races.” Dreyer said they involved schools to liaise with the parents to encourage their children to get into canoes. He said 13 more places still needed to be filled. Samsa’s Sobantu Tilayi said the training programme was meaningful. They have also formed a partnership with the Department of Education to build maritime centres in schools.