Pietermaritzburg – In amongst the flotilla of paddlers setting off at
the start of the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon on February 19 will be a Kloof Grand
Master aiming to become only the seventh paddler to finish 40 editions of the
tough three day paddling and running race to Durban.
Nigel Briggs, who will celebrate his 61st birthday on the second day of the
Dusi Canoe Marathon says the annual pilgrimage down the Msundusi and Mngeni
River is as much a personal yardstick as it is an athletic achievement.
“When I got to the end of my first Dusi as a 19 year old in 1974, I was
shattered,” recalls Briggs. ’I had been totally lost on the Guinea Fowl portage
on the first day, and after the race I was sick as a dog. Not for any other
reason than I was totally exhausted.
“It was a totally new challenge to me and something that my body was not used
to. I took a vow back then that if I could keep on ‘Doing The Dusi’ every year
then I knew I was keeping in pretty good shape.
39 Dusi medals down the line, Briggs is sizing up an honour that he fully
appreciates as his names is set to be etched alongside the icon Graeme
Pope-Ellis and five other men who have completed 40 Dusis.
“It is fascinating because there is a group of friends that we have been
paddling with for decades, and we are all acutely aware of how many races each
has done,” said Briggs.
“No matter where you are, you keep tabs on who has entered, how strong they are
looking in the build-up to the race and how they do in the Dusi.
“It is actually bittersweet! Part of you would like them to fail, but you are
all such good friends that you only want the best for them. It is sad to see
guys you have raced with over the years battling.
Briggs, who won the novice prize in his first Dusi, still has a strong
competitive streak and wants to try and race onto the podium in his Dusi Grand
Master class. He has regularly represented South Africa at the marathon Masters
Cup that precedes the World Marathon Championships every year.
He says every Dusi has been different, but some distinct highs and lows have
surfaced in his memory as he gears up for what will be a very significant 40th
Dusi medal on Saturday 21 February.
“The worst Dusis are when you set a high goal for yourself and you don’t
achieve it,” says Briggs. “One year in the mid-1980s I was racing really hard,
but got caught up in the beer and braaivleis overnight and my race literally
fell apart. That was me out the back door.
“My best results must be the year I got a gold medal with Frank Soll, and the
year we managed to actually beat the late great Graeme Pope-Ellis and Dave
Rawlinson,” said Briggs.
Briggs’ Dusi career spans the early days when the race was run, more often than
not, in bitterly low river conditions with no water releases from any of the
dams. With the 2015 edition of the Dusi set to be raced on low rivers due to
the drought and severe water restrictions, Briggs sees a nostalgic return to
the tough Dusis of the 70s and 80s.
“Look as a senior citizen I would like some water to help me get to Durban! But
I will be happy with it being little water and some running. But most of all
the one thing that doesn’t change every year is the camaraderie.
“I guess that is what brings me back every year. It is a totally unique event.
A biathlon in Africa that has become a very important part of my life.
“The Dusi is just like life – you get out of it what you put into it. Yes I
have accumulated a lot of experience on the race at all sorts of river levels,
but you can’t just pitch up and plan to drift through it. That is something
that is easy to forget,” said Briggs.
Super Dusi Rat 40 Club
Graeme Pope-Ellis 46
Lyle Wheeler 43
Neil Tupper 42
Roly Alborough 42
Rob Bourne-Lange 41
Gudgie Dixon 40
Nigel Briggs 39
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. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za