Underberg - A fifth in 2017 and a fourth in 2018 shows that young Christie Mackenzie is moving in the right direction at the Drak Challenge and 2019 could see her push for much higher honours in the two-day race from January 19 to 20.
Mackenzie missed out on third in an end sprint with the experienced Robyn Owen at the 2018 edition of the race but has improved markedly since that performance with a second in a K2 at the Dusi and also a third at the Hansa Fish, which was the SA K1 championships.
What seems to become a common narrative among the top athletes heading into the busy summer river season is that they haven't trained enough and before the Christmas break Mackenzie felt she was in that bracket too.
"I only managed to start my training properly after my exams and that was towards the end of the year," the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships bronze medallist said.
"I spent a lot of time running and in the gym but wasn't able to get into the boat as much as I would have liked.
"I have some time to prepare for the Drak and the Dusi in KZN, which I am really looking forward to!"
Having moved to Cape Town to study at Varsity College, being back in her home province ahead of the Drak Challenge is something she relishes and will look to take advantage of being in an area she is familiar with.
"The uMzimkhulu was the first river that I learnt to paddle on and have spent so much time in the Berg throughout my life," she said.
"It feels like going back home when I head up to Underberg and I will be spending a lot of time up there in the build-up to the Drak.
"The race and the town have such a great vibe during the holidays and over the race so I always get excited at this time of year," she added.
Mackenzie's focus for the 2019 summer will be on trying to win a maiden Dusi title, however he stresses the importance of a good Drak Challenge result as part of her preparation.
"I always emphasise the Dusi but the Drak is always a big race for me. I really enjoyed last year's race with a sprint finish with Robyn at the end," she emphasised.
"I was happy with fourth last year but I am hoping that I can improve on that result at this year's race."