Beyond The Making Of ‘Beyond The River’

One late February evening in 2013, I stood at the edge of Blue Lagoon in Durban, staring at the smashed remnants of an incomplete sporting career. 39 years old, soaking wet, scratched, bruised, beyond exhausted and – worst of all – last to finish the Dusi Canoe Marathon. I was not so much disheartened as finished – klaar.

But before I tell that story, it needs some contextualising.

South Africa, in particular, has a fascination with mass-participation, long-distance events: The Comrades, The Midmar Mile, The Argus, The Dusi. These events offer the average Joe – or Josephine, for that matter – their own personal Olympics.

The great conservationist and pioneer, Ian Player, said of his first ventures down the Umsindusi and Umgeni rivers, on which the Dusi is run, that “no man can ever be the same again” after this experience. That truth may have been somewhat diluted by convenient water points offering the latest sporty hydration products, and shower tents to cool aching muscles at the top of a hill.

But the fact remains that, for a day, I can be a hero.

For weeks, and in some cases months, in the lead-up to and aftermath of an event, you or I can be a hero. And these events are within the capability of most people; we can don our running shoes and set our sights on an event months (or sometimes years) beyond the here and now, and make our way steadily towards it.

“I’m not a natural athlete” or “I never did like sport much and it’s too late to start now”, I hear the nay-sayers argue. Well, this is just not an excuse. In 2009, at the  age of 77, South African Deidre Larkin began her own running career in response to her frustration with osteoporosis medication that made her feel ill. While the Comrades Marathon might not be on her agenda, she is now a multiple age-group South African and world record-holder. At 85, she still competes in half-marathons.  The “galloping granny’s” response to questions about her prior sporting history? “I had never really been interested, so I began by alternating running and walking three steps.”

And a quick Google search will reveal that Deidre is not alone.

Whether it’s a 70-plus-year-old climbing Kilimanjaro or a 100-year-old water-skier (for real – look up Frank Shearer), age need not be a hindrance.

So, what does any of this have to do with that self-absorbed 39-year-old standing at the side of a river feeling sorry for himself? I was at the end of a sporting career. Only too aware that most of my competitors were between the ages of 20 and 30, I had just failed (so I thought) in my attempt to win a 10th gold medal (for a top 10 finish) in the Dusi Canoe Marathon. I had smashed my boat and walked the last 18km through what seemed a thorn and stray dog-infested valley to find the organizers packing up. (To their credit, they had sent a chopper to look for me.) Emerging from the dusk, a 19-year-old Sowetan paddler, who had finished 11th and had waited that whole afternoon for me, asked me to compete with him the following year. And so, a new journey began. The following year – 2014 – we overcame injury and broken equipment during the first day of the race to achieve that 10th gold medal (and Siseko Ntondini’s first).

Yes, that was the end of a journey for me and, yes, I hope I passed on the baton – Siseko has already achieved his third gold medal and much more. But it was the start of a new journey: the making of the film Beyond the River, which told a fictionalized version of our story; the opportunity to write the book Confluence, which tells the true story; and a demanding public-speaking roadshow. Find the trailer for the movie below and click on the link to find out more about it.

We have the climate, the outdoor culture and the events on our doorstep. The challenges are waiting. You will “never be the same again”.

Not sure how to stay fit through holiday? Click on the link to find out how easy it can be. Fitness can be yours – now and beyond.