Pietermaritzburg - It has been a very different Dusi Canoe Marathon build-up for perennial podium contender Sbonelo Khwela, however he firmly believes that 2019 could be the year that we see him on the top step of the podium on Saturday, February 16.
The former K2 Dusi champion has had to reshape his entire Dusi preparations due to a number of set-backs at the end of 2018 where he fell ill twice and was unable to get his training regime under way for Dusi.
"I wasn't feeling well for a long time and went to the doctor who said I was ill as a result of stress," the star said.
"It was a difficult year for me with some family issues so the illness was stress related.
"Then just before the Fish I contracted bilharzia, got treated but the treatment wasn’t enough so I fell ill again and couldn't start my training and wasn't strong during the early Dusi build-up races."
It's been a busy start to the year for the 13-time Dusi finisher as he has had to up his regime to get himself ready for the challenge come Thursday. Despite a tough few weeks of training, Khwela believes that he is in great shape.
"I have definitely found my rhythm again, I am happy with where I am," he said.
"I think that I used to train too early and get to the race and be tired and make silly mistakes but I think that I am starting to peak at the right time this year.
"It is exciting for me that I am going into the race feeling far fresher than I have done in the past and the I think I am going to give the other guys a hard time," a confident Khwela added.
As the summer rains continue to fall in KwaZulu-Natal the Msundusi and the Mngeni Rivers are at terrific levels at the start of race week. Khwela hasn't experienced this sort of build-up in a number of years but has taken advantage of it.
"I have been tripping a lot in the last few weeks with the good water levels and I am looking forward to racing at this sort of level.
"If there is more water then I think it will help myself and guys like Banji (Thulani Mbanjwa) because it is a little less technical," he explained.
The top contenders for Dusi glory has not changed for a number of years; however there might be a few more paddlers added to the crowd of championship hopefuls. Khwela knows the challenge is going to be immense but he looks forward to it every year.
"The Dusi is always going to be tough and we all know that," he stressed.
"To see Hank McGregor going well just makes it even harder and he was in good form at the Campbell's to Dusi Bridge race last month.
"The Dusi always surprises and over a long three days it is going to be an interesting race."