Change a Life Academy
20 July 2017
Written by: Nick Tatham
Brilliant Berg for Change a Life stars
Pietermaritzburg – The next generation of Martin Dreyer’s Change a Life
Academy showed their immense potential when three of the academy's
paddlers all finished in the top ten at the recent Berg River Canoe
Marathon in the Western Cape.
This year’s race was heralded as one of the lowest and toughest editions
of the four-day odyssey from Paarl to Velddrif on the West Coast, and
historically it hasn’t been an event where the Change a Life Academy
paddlers have thrived.
2017 Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathon winners Mthobisi Cele and Mpilo Zondi
were joined by promising Under 18 paddler Mvelo Ngidi for the Western
Cape showpiece and it was Cele who shone brightest winning the Under 23
category and finishing fourth overall.
Zondi finished sixth overall and third Under 23, behind Cele and Alan
Houston, and Mvelo Ngidi won the Under 18 category and finished tenth
“I did have quite high expectations for the guys but we didn’t want to
jinx anything talking about it” Martin Dreyer said.
“We knew there was potential there after Mthobisi and Mpilo’s Non-Stop
win and the guys had put in so much work in training and preparation
that they were well prepared when the race came.
“The CAL Zulus spent five days tripping the river with the international
paddlers and that helped them a lot when the racing started.”
The race is usually 240km however it was slightly shorter this year due
to the low water level and severe water hyacinth blocks, but that didn’t
detract from the fact that it was one of the most difficult Berg’s in
“The Berg is unique in that there are so many other obstacles besides
for the water.
“Tree blocks are a huge problem for paddlers and being able to negotiate
yourself through these tree blocks is vital if you want to do well, but
also making the right decisions when presented with multiple channel
“When you are racing at the top end you cannot afford to make mistakes
at these sorts of obstacles and I think that has been the problem in the
past for a lot of the Change a Life guys.
“A lot of local knowledge is needed and it definitely helped the guys,”
In previous years Dreyer has sent a large contingent of Change a Life
paddlers to races outside of the province, however he took a different
approach to the Berg this year and the more refined approach paid
“We only sent three guys this year and they flew down to Cape Town a
week before the race, stayed in a really nice accommodation and had a
lot of time to prepare whereas in the past the guys usually take the bus
down, travelling for two days and get there a day before the race
“Change a Life just provided the foundation for the guys, they still had
to go out and perform and do the hard work, which they did admirably,”
For Dreyer, seeing this next generation of stars taking up the mantle in
the Change a Life Academy is satisfying. This coupled with their sound
work ethic means that these three paddlers are on track for some quality
“It’s great to see these younger guys stepping up to the plate and
showing their talent in one of the toughest races in the country.
“Mthobisi and Mpilo have already committed to Dusi for next year which
is exciting and to see an Under 18 like Mvelo do so well is hugely
“I congratulated him on winning the Under 18 category, but his top ten
finish was far more impressive for me.
“The Berg isn’t a race that has a strong junior field but for him to
finish in the top ten overall was a brilliant result,” Dreyer beamed.
download the hi-resolution pic
Change a Life
Academy logo - jpeg
In what was one of their
strongest showings at the recent Berg River Canoe Marathon, Martin
Dreyer's Change a Life Academy's Mthobisi Cele (pictured) finished
fourth overall and won the Under 23 category at the four-day race from
Paarl to Velddrif in the Western Cape.
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