Pietermaritzburg – On Sunday 9 November the biggest one day canoeing race of the year will attract a massive field to Albert Falls Dam for the 26km Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon, presented by Parklane SuperSpar, which honours the contribution made to the sport by the late Ozzie Gladwin.Gladwin got involved in the heady days of the early Dusi Canoe Marathons, when pairs of paddlers raced from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, most of them hoping to survive the adventure rather than win it.
Gladwin, who was a respected engineer working for the telecommunications arm of the Post Office in those days, used to serve as a motor racing timekeeper at the Roy Hesketh race circuit in Pietermaritzburg and volunteered as a timekeeper and race official after his son Peter married into the Campbell canoeing family.
Ozzie Gladwin quickly became a respected part of the Natal Canoe Union infrastructure, assisting legendary Dusi boss Ernie Pearce and his wife Sheila as well as later generations of Dusi officials.
It was however his passion for ham radios that allowed him to make a distinctive contribution to the sport. In the earliest days of the Dusi, communications out of the valley from the two overnight stops at Dusi Bridge and Dip Tank were impossible and attempts were made to use carrier pigeons to ferry results and news back to Pietermaritzburg which could then be relayed to the media.
“That didn’t work very well though,” recalls Peter Gladwin, the son of Ozzie. “Apart from the fact that many of them didn’t make it back to Pietermaritzburg or Durban, I think quite a few fell to hungry paddlers at the overnight stops as well!”
Ozzie Gladwin owned a World War II issue ham radio, which was bolted into the back of his Willy’s Jeep which allowed him to follow the race and relay results and news back to radio ham operators in Durban, who would in turn relay race updates and results by telephone to the waiting media.
Gladwin remained involved with the provincial union as a senior administrator and head timekeeper long after his family involvement in the sport had come to an end.
“Canoeing was a real adventure in those days,” recalls Peter who was a regular top three finisher in the Dusi Canoe Marathons of the early 1960s, claiming several doubles category wins and he won the 1962 overall title with Derek Antrobus.
“My old man loved that, and he was involved for many years after I stopped paddling.
“After he passed away, the NCU decided to honour him by naming this new race on the upper Mngeni River after him.”
“It is fantastic that such a major race honours an official and timekeeper,” said John Oliver, who has taken over as the mainstay of canoeing administration and timekeeping in the province. “Officials usually huddle in the background and serve the sport, so it’s great to have a race honour someone who made such a unique contribution to the sport.”
The Ozzie Gladwin holds the national record entry for a one-day canoeing race, twice exceeding the 1000 paddler mark, the highest being the 1999 entry of 1024 paddlers.