Duo prepare to compete in world’s most gruelling canoe challenge

2008-04-01 00:00

Two Pietermaritzburg-born paddlers will be competing in the longest canoe and kayak race in the world — The Mighty Yukon River Quest in Canada in June.

Mark Dickson and Natalie Woods are looking forward to the 740 km race, which has been widely described as "gruelling and a great test of stamina".

The paddlers will only be able to rest at two mandatory stops. The first stop (seven hours) will only come after 323 km of paddling and the next, a three-hour stop, after 586 km.

Dickson and Woods are planning to complete the race within 59 hours with a top three placing in the mixed canoe race.

Woods has participated in seven Dusi and Fish River canoe marathons, always with a top-10 finish. The adventure enthusiast, who has also competed in cycle challenges and the Midmar Mile, told The Witness that this will be an amazing experience for her.

"As a woman, you should not feel afraid to challenge yourself in a male dominated sport," she said.

Woods said she was "bored of conventional sport" and then was introduced to paddling by her mentor and instructor Les Willows. She has been doing the sport for over 10 years and is very grateful to him for the travelling and exploratory experience she has gained from it.

Dickson, a novice at canoeing, has never before competed in a race. He heard about the Canadian race and was challenged to compete without ever having had any formal training.

He approached Woods because of her experience and the two decided to team up, rather than him braving the Canadian waters alone.

Woods taught him how to paddle and together the two are hoping to give other entrants from around the world a great challenge.

They will be paddling with 100 teams from countries including Canada, the U.S., Israel, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Latvia, Denmark and South Africa.

This year’s Dusi winners, Martin Dreyer and Michael Mbanjwa, will also be competing in the men’s kayaking category.

In order to participate, Woods and Dickson need to raise R78 000 and get sponsorship for equipment and gear. Woods told The Witness that as a teacher, she cannot afford the race on her salary. "It would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me," she said.

The two will also do their bit to raise money for the SPCA, Starfish and Trees for Africa charity organisations.

For more information about the race go to www.yukonriverquest.com

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