Change a Life Academy Media Release  No: CAL1705

20 July 2017

 Embargo: None  Written by: Nick Tatham

Brilliant Berg for Change a Life stars

Pietermaritzburg – The next generation of Martin Dreyer’s Change a Life Academy showed their immense potential when three of the academy's paddlers all finished in the top ten at the recent Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Western Cape.

This year’s race was heralded as one of the lowest and toughest editions of the four-day odyssey from Paarl to Velddrif on the West Coast, and historically it hasn’t been an event where the Change a Life Academy paddlers have thrived.

2017 Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathon winners Mthobisi Cele and Mpilo Zondi were joined by promising Under 18 paddler Mvelo Ngidi for the Western Cape showpiece and it was Cele who shone brightest winning the Under 23 category and finishing fourth overall.

Zondi finished sixth overall and third Under 23, behind Cele and Alan Houston, and Mvelo Ngidi won the Under 18 category and finished tenth overall.

“I did have quite high expectations for the guys but we didn’t want to jinx anything talking about it” Martin Dreyer said.

“We knew there was potential there after Mthobisi and Mpilo’s Non-Stop win and the guys had put in so much work in training and preparation that they were well prepared when the race came.

“The CAL Zulus spent five days tripping the river with the international paddlers and that helped them a lot when the racing started.”

The race is usually 240km however it was slightly shorter this year due to the low water level and severe water hyacinth blocks, but that didn’t detract from the fact that it was one of the most difficult Berg’s in many years.

“The Berg is unique in that there are so many other obstacles besides for the water.

“Tree blocks are a huge problem for paddlers and being able to negotiate yourself through these tree blocks is vital if you want to do well, but also making the right decisions when presented with multiple channel options.

“When you are racing at the top end you cannot afford to make mistakes at these sorts of obstacles and I think that has been the problem in the past for a lot of the Change a Life guys.

“A lot of local knowledge is needed and it definitely helped the guys,” Dreyer added.

In previous years Dreyer has sent a large contingent of Change a Life paddlers to races outside of the province, however he took a different approach to the Berg this year and the more refined approach paid dividends.

“We only sent three guys this year and they flew down to Cape Town a week before the race, stayed in a really nice accommodation and had a lot of time to prepare whereas in the past the guys usually take the bus down, travelling for two days and get there a day before the race starts.

“Change a Life just provided the foundation for the guys, they still had to go out and perform and do the hard work, which they did admirably,” he commented.

For Dreyer, seeing this next generation of stars taking up the mantle in the Change a Life Academy is satisfying. This coupled with their sound work ethic means that these three paddlers are on track for some quality results.

“It’s great to see these younger guys stepping up to the plate and showing their talent in one of the toughest races in the country.

“Mthobisi and Mpilo have already committed to Dusi for next year which is exciting and to see an Under 18 like Mvelo do so well is hugely encouraging.

“I congratulated him on winning the Under 18 category, but his top ten finish was far more impressive for me.

“The Berg isn’t a race that has a strong junior field but for him to finish in the top ten overall was a brilliant result,” Dreyer beamed.


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In what was one of their strongest showings at the recent Berg River Canoe Marathon, Martin Dreyer's Change a Life Academy's Mthobisi Cele (pictured) finished fourth overall and won the Under 23 category at the four-day race from Paarl to Velddrif in the Western Cape. John Hishin/
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