South African paddling veteran Thulani Mbanjwa has added his name to the growing entry for the 2022 Fish River Canoe Marathon.
As Mbanjwa enters the race with limited expectations, racing is an important cog in his summer paddling plans.
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The Fish River Canoe Marathon October 8-9 is often taken out of Mbanjwa’s priority competition block, but plays a role in preparing it for the KZN marathon season. Its limited preparation for this year’s Fish is also the result of other exciting developments.
“I started the Thulani Mbanjwa Sports Academy in the Valley of a Thousand Hills earlier in the year and it has been a big priority for me,” said paddle icon Mbanjwa.
“We have hosted 28 children as part of the academy and it has been an incredible journey to see how sport and canoeing can change lives.
“So many of the kids we have in the academy are there to get away from drugs and crime and to see how happy they are when they come to practice after school, it’s amazing. “
The academy has reduced the time Mbanjwa has to train, but there is a lot more motivation for him as he reflects on his journey.
“I was like those young people and I was lucky to have Robert Lembethe to help me start my canoeing career.
“I would never have imagined that I could have had a career in canoeing if it hadn’t been for the Lembethe academy,” added a grateful Mbanjwa.
Eyes on the drift
Mbanjwa’s annual target is the Dusi Canoe Marathon and that will be his target again in 2023, so heading into the Fish River Canoe Marathon next month he has kept his expectations modest.
“I always say if you haven’t trained for Fish, you will fight to finish in the top ten,” he commented.
“I’m aiming for a top 20 this year but I think if I can stay in my boat both days I can make a top ten.
“Earlier this year I ran the Berg without training so I have a bit of a base, but the pace is completely different and you have to avoid mistakes because it can cost you at the Fish.”
With great rapids and icy water, the Fish offers a number of challenges for paddlers and Mbanjwa has never quite been able to accept them despite finishing fifteen medals.
“You’re never comfortable at Fish! When you press Double Trouble and feel that cold water, it grabs you.
“Then Keith is always a quick hard to get in the race and you can ask anyone, it’s not easy at all.
“I’m never completely confident for the Fish, but it’s definitely a race I really enjoy and I can’t wait to race there again.
“Some of the top guys are going to be missed because they’ll be away, but it’s still a very tough race with a strong field,” Mbanjwa said.