Wheeler sizes up Dusi #44
Pietermaritzburg – Quietly and inconspicuously Lyle Wheeler has completed every single Dusi Canoe Marathon since 1972 and is aiming at a 44th consecutive Dusi Medal when he arrives in Durban on Saturday.
Wheeler is second on the list of all-time Dusi finishers, only three behind the unbroken string of 46 finishes by the iconic late “Dusi King” Graeme Pope-Ellis.
From the enthusiastic 65 year old from Umlaas Road, paddling has become part of his lifestyle, and while he is proud of his incredible stretch of consecutive Dusi finishes, homing in on the record of Pope-Ellis fills him with a little trepidation.
“I have thought about that possibility a lot, and it’s nice and not nice at the same time,” says Wheeler. “Graeme Pope-Ellis was always a hero of mine, a total legend, and even if I pass his record I will never ever match up to the man.
“I had great chat with his son Lee recently and told him of my deep respect for his dad. There will only ever be one Pope. He taught so many of us about respect and sportsmanship.
“If I am lucky enough to break his record, I promise you I will spend that occasion talking more about Graeme Pope-Ellis than myself,” added Wheeler.
Wheeler went past the mark of 42 Dusi medals held by Roly Alborough in 2013, a feat that also impacted on him heavily.
“Roly was also a true legend,” says Wheeler. “I vividly recall paddling up to Mussons one day and there I saw Roly Alborough and Andre Hawarden standing there, with their shirts off. Man, those were men. They were like Sergeant-Majors! I just about wanted to turn around and go back!”
He will be paddling with long standing Dusi partner of ten previous Dusis Robert Heerman. “We have a lot of fun together,” says Wheeler.
“I have had so much fun paddling with my children Shelley, Quinton and Billy and now with my grandchildren!
“The Dusi becomes part of you,” he added. “There is this incredible sense of camaraderie and friendship that you take from the Dusi every year that is so important to me.”
Wheeler is quick to point out that the modern Dusi is markedly different from the heydays of the seventies, and that the current banter about the 2015 Dusi leaning back towards an old-school Dusi is unrealistic.
“In our early Dusis we ran portages that don’t even exist anymore,” recalls Wheeler. “I remember my dad going out at night to fire off flares so that paddlers who were still out on the river could get an idea of where the overnight stop was.
“Some mornings we would go down to the river to start and there would still be guys arriving after paddling and camping out overnight.
“Everyone stayed in the valley overnight. There were hardly any roads and no houses. It was a big deal to have newspapers dropped by an aeroplane in the morning.
“We often didn’t have any water in the river, and we would start in ankle-deep water and then run, and run, and run.
“Before Inanda dam we would run from the Dip Tank overnight stop on a portage called Cakewalk all the way to the Burma Road portage, do that portage and basically start paddling at the Pumphouse Weir.
“What we do today is a breeze compared to those days!” he added.
Modest and humble by nature Wheeler embodies the spirit of this 64 year old event that has become a pivotal part of his life.
The 64th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban from Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 February 2015. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za