With the guidance of two-time MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon champion Abby Solms, young Pietermaritzburg resident Aadila Kajee could become the first Indian woman to take on the three-day epic next week Saturday.
It has been a whirlwind build-up for the former Wykeham Collegiate pupil who had never picked up a paddle let along been in a canoe before October last year, but the seed was sown for her when she started running during lockdown.
“On one of the runners our group was chatting about their various experiences at the Dusi,” Kajee said. “They were arguing what is more difficult, Comrades or Dusi and they mentioned that they have run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, some have also ridden from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and they were just saying it is amazing achievement to have done the route from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in all three formats, run, ride and paddle.
“So that is when I thought maybe I should try and be one of these insane people to try and achieve all three!”
Kajee has been using the services of experienced Dusi and running coach Andrew Booyens during her build-up. Booyens was one of the first to give Kajee the green light to take on the challenge.
“During one of meetings with Andrew I brought up the idea with him of me learning how to paddle and possibly attempting the Dusi in 2021.
“He encouraged me and said it would be life changing for me to do this. He was enthusiastic and very excited.”
To have someone of Solms’ experience in the boat is something that isn’t lost on Kajee. To be able to feed off the knowledge of one of the country’s finest female river paddlers is invaluable.
“Abby is the best driver in the world! It is great to go to races and when other elite paddlers see her and tell me that I have one of the best paddler in the same boat.
“I am forever grateful to be able to partner her and learn from the best. It is indeed an honour and I think a privilege which I will cherish forever. Her dedication and commitment to the sport is phenomenal.
“Her experience and patience with me is so amazing and humbling for a champion to take the time to help a novice like me.”
For the pair to get to Durban over the three days they will have to navigate over 120km of river and portages. For Kajee there is more to finishing the Dusi than just a medal.
“I have been told by a few of the older generation paddlers when they see me at the club dice on Thursdays, that they have never seen an Indian female do the Dusi or even paddle. ”
“I am super keen to be the first Indian and Muslim female to go from Pietermaritzburg to Durban along the Dusi river.
“I am excited about it and I hope that this will lead to others wanting to do the event in the future and even just get to the Drift and paddle,” a proud Kajee added.