Berg icon Jean Wilson back
Cape Town - When the new record field of canoeists lines up for the start of the Windhoek Berg River Canoe Marathon in Paarl on Wednesday 13 July, the seeded women's batch will include iconic Cape paddler Jean Wilson who has come out of retirement to be part of the famous race's 50th anniversary celebrations.
Wilson, who turns 42 just days before the start, dominated the race in the nineties, with seven wins between 1992 and 2000, sharing the title of the most successful female Berg paddler along with Marinda Hartzenberg, who won seven times in the eighties.
"We were actually out paddling for fun on Sandvlei on the final day of the Berg last year, and we were thinking about the guys finishing the race and the talk turned to the 50th anniversary race," said Wilson. "That's when the seed was sown."
"I really haven't done the training, and I am during it purely for old time sake," she added.
However she shook the canoeing fraternity with her form in the recent Swartland marathon where she outsprinted Hillary Pitchford to claim to last spot on the podium.
Wilson won respect wherever she raced as the petite blonde was a powerful marathoner and a shrewd tactician who won numerous national titles and represented her country abroad.
She battled on the portages due to having polio as a child, and was allowed to receive assistance in some paddling events to help her on the tough sections where paddlers have to carry their craft.
The early stages of the Berg are characterised by numerous tree blocks which make life difficult for Wilson.
"The toughest times on the Berg for me were the unexpected portages, especially those on the third or fourth day where short cuts ran dry and ended in muddy slippery portages," recalled Wilson.
"The challenge was to stay focused and positive knowing that I was going to lose time before I could get back in the water. When you're feeling almost blown already it is tough! I think the hardest was when Dene Simpson caught me in this situation just before Zoutkloof."
"I am just aiming to get to the end and hopefully enjoy the occasion," Wilson added. "It will be my twelfth Berg, which is something that I don't think many other women have done."
"It's going to be a great family experience, as we will be staying in a camper van at the overnight stops to enjoy the whole experience of the 50th anniversary."
The Berg River Canoe Marathon takes place from 13 to 16 July 2011, preceded by a time trial on 12 July.