15-17 February 2024

Proud moment for Dusi Duke Martin Dreyer

Change a Life Academy founder and Dusi Canoe legend nominated for World Paddle Award

The nominees for the 2016 World Paddle Awards were announced on Monday. Five South Africans cracked the nod, including FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon legend Martin Dreyer, the founder of the Computershare Change a Life Academy.

He is up for a Foundation Award for the academy, which has grown in leaps and bounds from a highly successful canoeing programme to also include strong cycling and running components.“I didn’t do my Change a Life canoeing for the recognition,” Dreyer said this week. “I did it because I saw talent in the Valley [of a Thousand Hills] when I trained with Thulani Mbanjwa for months for our 2008 Dusi onslaught. I just wanted to make a difference. From those humble beginnings, it has snowballed into a fantastic initiative.”

Focusing on the significance of the nomination, he added: “To be nominated for the World Paddle Awards means Change a Life is on track. It’s lovely for me to be nominated because it gives credibility to the Change a Life Academy, which is good for the sponsors [Computershare for canoeing and RMB for cycling], who have put money into the Change a Life Trust. It’s awesome. It makes me feel good, but I never did it for the recognition.”

Running the academy has never been a money-making venture either, but, Dreyer said, he has been paid back in a very meaningful way. He shared: “It has been an incredible journey. Winning the Dusi last year [through Sbonelo Khwela], the Change a Life world did a full circle …”

Dreyer’s competitive CV is hugely impressive. His seven Dusi wins are matched by his seven victories in the even tougher Non-Stop Dusi. He also claimed titles in the Vaal and Breede Canoe Marathons, as well as victory in Australia’s Avon Descent. Besides that he won the Land Rover G4 Challenge final in 2006 against opposition from all around the world, and, as a mountain biker, he has also won the very demanding 2 300 km Freedom Challenge.

After stepping away from racing, Dreyer said starting the Change a Life Academy helped to smooth the change in his life. “When you retire there is a void,” he explained. “It is like pottering around in a big empty house and the Change a Life Academy has filled that void 100%. When they achieve, it is really very rewarding.”

The academy came into being after Dreyer and Thulani Mbanjwa won the 2008 Dusi Canoe Marathon in 7:33:24, still the fastest time in the history of the 64-year-old race. It was funded through the Change a Life Cycle Tour, which is organised by Computershare, with the money being put into the Change a Life Trust.Dreyer said some extraordinarily big hitters, including the CEOs of organisations like the JSE, Old Mutual and Hollard Insurance, are involved in the support of the Trust. The cycling programme, which has been producing outstanding results in just two years of existence, is separately funded by RMB, which approached the Dusi Duke to replicate his canoeing programme with mountain bikers.

The consistent success of the academy’s paddlers, who are regular finishers in the upper echelons of the Dusi, has meant that it has grown way beyond what it was when Dreyer began it and that has meant also turning his hand to administration.
To start, it was about hands-on teaching and training with a small group of paddlers, but much has changed. “With the group increasing to 22 paddlers, 10 runners (we have a running team), 10 cyclists and multiple races happening on the same weekend, it’s required more management,” he said. “I have had to put more people who live in the Valley of a Thousand Hills in place — coaches, running team co-ordinators, bus drivers, and bike mechanics. It means more management, but in order for it to grow and thrive it’s developed that way, and it’s fine.”

Those changes have made the academy more sustainable and also worked for Dreyer in his personal life, which has changed in many ways since he started the programme. He recalled: “I was single and just winging it, living life … Over the years, I have got married, had two children, and built my first house, so my life has also evolved. It does suit me now when I reflect back that I am not able to be down there every day, training shoulder-to-shoulder with the guys. It has actually worked for me. I have my family and other important things to care about.”To vote for Dreyer in the World Paddle Awards, please visit http://www.worldpaddleawards.com/nominees/2015-martin-dreyer-south-africa and click on the “LIKE” button.