Pietermaritzburg - No matter what happens at the front of the elite
men's and women's races in the Dusi Canoe Marathon from February 15 to 17,
the biggest record that is poised to be broken will fall to a modest 67-year-old Pietermaritzburg man aiming to break the great Graeme Pope-Ellis' record
for most Dusi finishes.
Lyle Wheeler has completed the tough three day odyssey from Camps Drift to Blue
Lagoon 46 times, equalling the record held by the "Dusi King" Pope-Ellis, and
as he prepares to race another Dusi, he is adamant that he will always be
secondary to Pope-Ellis, even if he earns his 47th medal this year.
"I am not a legend, I am just one of the guys," he insists.
"I am truly blessed to still be racing the Dusi, when some of the other guys
who have raced with me over the years like Neil 'Tups' Tupper and Rob
Bourne-Lange are not paddling anymore," says Wheeler.
"I still get nervous and excited, and while it will be nice to get the record,
I am not even thinking about it, because so much can happen on the river that
you have to take it one day at a time, one rapid at a time.
"If and when I get to the last stretch coming into Durban, I will say a quiet
word to Graeme (Pope-Ellis) just to remind him that he is, and always will be,
the greatest," said Wheeler.
The Pietermaritzburg septuagenarian is thrilled to be paddling with his son
Billy, having done the Dusi with many other members of his extended family over
"Billy is largely deaf and doesn't paddle with his hearing aid, so we have
developed a way of communicating together when we paddle," explains Wheeler.
"He anticipates where I am going to steer the boat by the way I turn my head.
He has become excellent at reading the strength of my stroke, and I also hold
up a few fingers on one hand when I want him to speed up or slow down," he
Wheeler is a cult figure in the race and gets a warm welcome from all the
paddlers around him in the race, where his trademark old floppy white hat
stands out in the crowd.
"I love the fact that paddlers tell each other follow that old ballie with the
white hat because he knows the way down the river," he chuckles.
He also thrived in the tough conditions unexpectedly meted out to the paddlers
on the final stage last year when the water release from Inanda dam failed to
"The other paddlers got to realise what the Dusi is all about!" he gushes.
"Sure, it was tough and a long day, but I promise you, that 2017 medal will
always be at the top of their trophy drawer, and the one they talk about the
most," he says.
While Wheeler actively reverses out of the limelight as much as possible, he is
excited about the privilege of starting in a special batch for the paddlers that
have done 40 and more Dusis.
"That is really special," he gushes. "And the best thing about that batch of
five boats is that it tells the story of what the Dusi is actually all about
because almost every boat is made up of family members paddling together."