Pietermaritzburg – One of the real “Iron Men” of the Dusi Canoe Marathon will be back on the start line on Thursday morning, ready to tackle his 36th Dusi.
But for 66 year-old Cape Town based personal trainer Andre Hawarden this year’s race has deep significance as it honours of the race’s legendary founder, Ian Player who passed away in November 2014.
Hawarden’s quickly became intrigued by Player’s early efforts and the Dusi as a whole and went on to become one of the race’s icon’s on the 1970’s and 80’s.
His return in 2015 will however be just his second appearance in fifteen years and the former Maritzburg College pupil cannot wait to get back onto the waters of the Msundusi and Mngeni Rivers later this week.
“I'm so excited I can barely breathe!” explains Hawarden excitedly.
“I can't wait to see all my old buddies again. Sadly a lot of them are no longer around but that makes the whole thing that much more special!”
“Ian Player, and subsequently the Dusi, was the major formative influence on my life. If I hadn't read his book and done the Dusi my life would have been completely different!” he adds.
No fewer than ten former Dusi winners – including defending K1 champion Lance Kime and 2014’s K2 winning combination of Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Khwela – are set to tackle this year’s race, however, in Hawarden, they will be in the company of one of the race’s toughest ever competitors.
“Andre Hawarden was the toughest and hardest paddlers I ever met!” said Lyle Wheeler, a veteran of 43 consecutive Dusi Canoe Marathons.
“He was one of my heroes in the early days. He was a legend of the race and is!”
“Andre had the ability to push himself so hard, harder than any other athlete in the race. I recall one race where he had run so hard on a portage that when he got down to the river he actually got into the boat facing backwards, that’s how delirious he was after running so hard.
“He was one of the greats, one of the Wally Haywards of the Dusi and we must never forget that!”
“It was a privilege to race with him!”
Hawarden’s history with the Dusi is a long and fascinating one however the hard-man of the 1970’s and 80’s – the period which shaped the sport of canoeing in South Africa as a whole and paved the way for the Dusi to become the international spectacle it is today – extraordinarily never won the overall title.
After the race changed its rules in 1970 to allow for K1’s to compete as individual entries instead of in pairs, Hawarden was a regular thorn in the side of King of the Dusi Graeme Pope-Ellis and the other elite racers as the pairs were made to fight hard to fend off the charging single figure.
Despite never winning the race outright, Hawarden went on to win five K1 class titles in 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979 & 1980.
Another change to the rules in 1981 allowed female and black paddlers to participate for the first time and this signalled Hawarden’s shifting his competitive focus as he and his wife Daphne – the first woman to ever finish the Dusi – took up the challenge of paddling as a mixed double.
The partnership was a highly successful one and while the depth of the class may have been questionable, five class wins in 1981-85 and overall results of 16th, 13th, 21st, 19th and 25th verified their remarkable strength.
Despite his lengthy absence, Hawarden has spent much time in recent months watching videos and reading up on the various obstacles of the Dusi route that lie ahead and believes he is ready for the tough yet exciting assignment that awaits.
The 64th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban from Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 February 2015.