Pietermaritzburg – U18 Surfski World Champion Mark Keeling and Valley of a Thousand Hills emerging star Mpilo Zondi have confirmed an unlikely partnership ahead of the 2015 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon as they look to challenge for the iconic race’s Junior Boys’ 2016 spoils.
Despite having only engaged with one another for the first time during their combining at the StaminaGro 50 Miler in December, the two are confident their opposite strengths will see them strong contenders during February’s three day tussle from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
“We are definitely hoping to win the juniors section at Dusi next year!” confirmed Keeling.
“We don’t really know each other at all and but we were really happy with how things went for us during our first paddle together at 50 Miler.
“Mpilo brings the running and I bring the paddling!” laughed the Fish Hoek High School pupil.
Individually Keeling and Zondi’s talent is unquestionable.
Keeling represented South Africa with aplomb at both the 2015 ICF Ocean Racing World Championships and ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships where he claimed the gold medal and finished sixth in his age group respectively.
Zondi too has already impressed during his fledgling career having finish third with K2 Nkosi Mabaso in the junior boys’ category of the 2014 Dusi before narrowly missing out on the age group’s K1 crown in 2015.
However with the partnership having been manufactured through the friendship their respective coaches Pete Cole and Martin Dreyer have enjoyed since their high school days together, as well as Keeling’s relative lack of Dusi experience, as a team the pair face some daunting challenges.
“With me being in the Cape and Mpilo in KZN, 50 Miler was pretty much it as far as the time we will be able to spend together before Dusi,” explained Keeling.
“Training separately and not really knowing each other isn’t ideal but we were really happy with how 50 Miler went for us – we didn’t lean or struggle at all and there weren’t any disagreements between us in the boat.
“With me having only done one social Dusi before and Mpilo living in the valley, he knows the river far better than me and so he will drive the boat at Dusi, something I have full confidence in!
“Pete (Cole) and Martin (Dreyer) are also really experienced Dusi paddlers so we have two great people to turn to for advice.”
While running comes naturally for Zondi, preparing for the race’s numerous portages is something Keeling has had to spend many hours preparing for in recent months.
“I have never really been much of a runner and so I’ve had to do a lot of work on my running lately and I will continue to have to do so before Dusi.
“I will be spending quite a bit of time with a boat on my shoulder in the mountains before Dusi while also doing a fair bit of strength work as well.”
The FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift, Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon, Durban from 18-20 February 2016. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za