Heroes of the valley mobbed like celebrities

2012-02-20 00:00

The Dusi’s “heroes of the Valley” this weekend thanked the people of The Valley of a Thousand Hills for their support.

Thulani Mbanjwa and Sibonelo Zondi, who came third in The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon last week, said they would live up to their reputation.

“I always enjoy the second day of the race,” said Mbanjwa.

“To see people who don’t even know me cheer for me and run next to the river waving encouragement at me is very humbling.

“I will never forget it for as long as I live.”

Like a major celebrity, Mbanjwa is mobbed by members of valley communities inviting him to their home to share a meal.

“I must get 10 meal invitations a day,” he said smiling.

Zondi said this was far from discouraging.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. We are an inspiration.

“At least eight boats out of the top 30 are piloted by black paddlers,” Zondi added.

Mbanjwa said that he enjoyed mentoring the next generation of paddlers from the valley.

After he won the 2007 Non-Stop Dusi with his mentor, Martin Dreyer, Mbanjwa said, “he told me that the people of the valley look up to me and that I can give back to the sport what I have taken from it”.

“After that I became head of development coaching at the academy and have not looked back. I love working with kids.”

Mbanjwa was coy about his chances of winning the canoe marathon next year, which is a K1 year.

“I’ll need to train hard if I am going to do that, but I have the support of the community behind me.

“So I know I will do well”.

He was full of praise for Kwanda Mhlope, who finished fourth with partner Lance Kime in this year’s event.

“If Mhlope continues with his current form, Zondi and I will have a lot of work cut out for us,” he said.

For now he is enjoying his moment with his daughter and the people of the valley.

“I have come a long way from where I was five years ago when paddling was just a dream,” he said.

Zondi said he would take things easily before he ponders next year’s challenge.

“I don’t know what next year’s race holds, but hopefully I’ll be back together with Mbanjwa in 2014 to try and win it,” he said.

Meanwhile, during the race, a group of paddlers abandoned their boats to save fellow paddler Clint Frost, whose foot became stuck in a rapid after his canoe tipped.

Together they kept his head above water and struggled to free his foot.

Frost was airlifted to hospital with a broken leg and monitored for secondary drowning.

In a heart-warming moment on the finishing line, paddler Jonathon Harley (42) proposed to his girlfriend as he crossed the finishing line.

He held up a banner that read “Will you marry me Jen” as he and his ­canoeing partner paddled to the finish.

Once on land, he went down on one knee and asked Jen Lyne (30) the question in person, presenting her with the ring.

She was in tears as she accepted the proposal.

Results, pages 20 & 21

Race report: page 22

• jonathan.faurie@witness.co.za

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