News24 journalist Murray Williams looks back at a moving moment which showed him what fatherhood is really about.
The Berg River Canoe Marathon, held every July, is rated one of the toughest in the world.
In the dead of the Cape winter, 240km. Often, snow on the mountains.
In 2003, on Day 4, the finish at Velddrif on the West Coast was finally in sight. We waited excitedly for the leaders to appear. There they were, eight paddlers in tight formation. After three days, the contest for the podium was still neck and neck.
In this pack was a Gautenger. I'd heard he mainly trained alone – without willing partners to put in the vast training he committed to. His name was Jacques Theron.
Now he was again alone, amid the Cape and KwaZulu-Natal's best talent, the finest paddlers in this country. All redlining to stay in the hunt, just 15 kilometres to go. Spending every ounce of their remaining energy, open taps.
One wondered how this isolated Gautenger could survive the odds.
And just then, shattering the silence, a voice rang out. A great booming voice, from a bear of a man among us in the small crowd.
"Go Jacquey!! Go Jacquey!!"
The ground almost shook from the power of this man's call.
This extraordinary clarion, across the water, to one paddler in particular.
A call to Jacques Theron. From his father.
A father who saw just how lonely his son probably was, in that precise moment. And who was there, sending the full force of his love to aid his son.
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In that moment, I understood a whole lot. A whole lot of answers, which I'd not even known I'd been asking questions about.
I understood what fatherhood is.
Fatherhood is extremely complicated. But, also, extremely simple. It's about being there. Powerfully. Proudly. Unflinchingly. Vocally. Unashamedly.
It was one of the clearest moments of my life.
For I was the father of a young boy at that time. I saw how simple pure love in action could be.
That was almost two decades ago, but I was reminded of it recently. At a hockey match, a tightly-fought game between two hugely skillful senior sides.
There were moments of brilliance. But the moment, for me, was when one young man made an error, in the heat of battle – allowing the opposing team to surge forward.
He couldn't believe he'd messed up, and his head dropped.
But within a split second from the sidelines came a voice, a booming voice: "C'mon! C'mon, my Boy!"
A voice rich with power! Unwavering support. Encouragement. Love. The voice of a father.
Life ebbs and flows. It thrills and disappoints. Yields success, and failure. And some boys, if they are extremely blessed on their journeys, have an extra player in their teams, a secret source of power, strength and light.
(PS: Theron won gold.)
This column was originally published on the Berg River Canoe Marathon website. The 59th race will not take place this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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