Underberg - Olympic medallist Bridgitte Hartley has
set her sights on adding the women’s title at the N3TC Drak Challenge, in
partnership with FNB, to her CV, as her foothold on the domestic river marathon
scene strengthens after a successful 2018 season.
She impressed winning the recent Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon in Cradock,
making her the reigning SA K1 women’s champion, and she is gradually ticking
off the major races that she wants to win.
She has been a regular fixture on the FNB Dusi podium in recent years but
hasn’t bagged that title yet, and she says that, as a fan of the uMzimkhulu
River in the Southern Drakensberg she really wants to win the women’s title
“I would definitely love to win a Drak,” said Hartley.
“Like the Fish, it is on
my bucket list. I have won a Fish now and would really like to win a Drak as
“The Drak is definitely one of the most fun river races on the calendar, even
if it is low, and the clean water is a big attraction,” said the
Pietermaritzburg-based Euro Steel team racer.
Hartley is keen to erase her disappointing race last year when she was fancied
to do well but battled in the low river conditions.
“I trained really hard and I thought I could win it, and to come third was such
a challenge,” she said. “It was the trickiness of the rapids and rocky river
that I battled with.
“Two years ago in an medium river I had so much fun, and if I can get in the
tripping before the race I am sure I can get a better result,” she said.
She pointed out that the very high standard of women’s canoeing at the moment
will make winning the Drak tough for any elite female racer.
“With the standard and number of top women at the moment, and with a K1 Dusi
coming up, there will be a lot of top girls putting in the miles for the Drak
over the December holidays,” she said.
Hartley’s relationship with the uMzimkhulu has not always been that rosy. She
was mercilessly beaten into submission in the full river in 2013, when she was
trying to establish herself in river races.
“I probably shouldn’t have taken part in that race because I was definitely a
novice to rivers. The juniors and less experienced paddlers were stopped from
racing, but I went. Looking back it was a stupid idea!”
“I was so unstable in the boat that I realised then that I had to do something
about it and start sharpening up my river skills, getting used to sitting lower
in a river boat and learning what paddles work best in the river,” she recalls.
Hartley will be blocking off time in December to train on the uMzimkhulu river
and master the lines through the rapids, and promises to be a force to be
reckoned with in January. But she says she is willing to be patient.
“I always say that the river races will always be there, forever. I can’t do
flatwater sprinting forever. I am in no rush,” she concluded.
2019 N3TC Drak Challenge, in partnership with FNB, starts at Castleburn on
Saturday, January 19 with a 26km stage to Sinister Pool, just above the
Swartberg Road bridge.
The second stage on Sunday, January 20 is 36km
long, finishing at Early Mist Farm close to Coleford resort.
More information can be found at www.drakadventure.co.za