Jason McCall spent a day finding out just how much work goes on behind the scenes of the biggest canoe race in KZN.
When I think of the Unlimited Dusi – the first thing that comes to mind is of course – the winners.
The paddlers - the excitement of the finish.
From news reports - to on the go action crossings - to just watching the spectacle from the river bank - it’s quite the event.
I wanted to find out what goes on behind the Unlimited Dusi.
The “sweat and weirs” side of the race.
So I decided to spend the final day with the media transport crew.
Driven by CMH Umhlanga – the media team – mostly photographers – and sprinters I found out - are responsible for the photographs, press releases and updates to the many thousands of people in and outside the media that need accurate information quickly.
What I learnt on that final day gave me a new respect for the people behind the Unlimited Dusi.
Did you know that there are several helicopters in the sky at any given moment?
Or that medical crews are on permanent stand by to assist anyone?
They sit in the pouring rain, the sweltering heat – in constant alert mode, ready to stitch up a paddler, or give an ice pack to the spectator who bumped a knee along the route.
Much respect - and we hardly ever even greet them!
Then of course our men in blue, from regular policemen making sure the roads were safe when crowds gathered in their masses - or the specialised search and rescue units – who seemed to keep their own spirits high with the occasional chuckle in the downpour of rain on that final day.
They are the ones who I know would be there in the thickest bush or the dodgiest cliff looking for any paddler or spectator who was in peril - hats off to them!
The other group of behind the scenes people that I have to give credit to are the seconders – they are the coaches, medics, support crews, friends, motivators and guides – they do so much for their paddlers.
I saw one guy give his mate a drink and then proceed to scream encouragement down the valley until his voice was no longer audible. That encouragement and support can often mean the difference between giving up and finishing - and don’t even get me started on the route the seconders have to chase down to keep up with their paddlers. Sometimes they get lucky and get tar, more often than not – it’s dirt road, mud and footpaths. At one point the photographers were looking for a path to walk through to capture a few images near one of the rapids – and out of nowhere this group of seconders came flying past on foot – crashing through the bush to meet with their paddlers. Amazing stuff.
Spending the day with the guys behind the lens showed just how hard it is to get that perfect shot – yes the cameras are hi-tech and digital, so the room for error is quite high in that regard – but following Darren, our photographer, was no easy feat - he was tasked with chasing the female leaders – and had literally seconds to get to the location, shoot, move, calculate the next position and make a dash via the transport cars to the next spot – oh and the shots have to be good enough for international media.
Next time you see a picture of a paddler hitting a big rapid, and he has some repair work on his boat and maybe a bandage on his hand remember this – his seconder probably fixed his boat or gave him the repair kit – in the middle of nowhere. A medic tended to his injuries – and a world class acrobatic, rock-jumping photographer got that picture in less than perfect conditions.
The Unlimited Dusi - you have to love it!
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