Twenty year-old UKZN Bachelor of Commerce student, Mr Andrew Birkett, clinched the 2011 Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon at the Blue Lagoon in Durban on February 19.   He pipped fellow contestant, Mr Ant Stott to the finish line by a mere 0.23 seconds – the closest finish in the 60-year history of the race.

Birkett is no stranger to Dusi victory – he and his partner, Mr Jason Graham, claimed the K2 Dusi title last year.  However, Birkett admits that this year’s win was sweeter, probably because racing the gruelling 125 km race in a K1 is far more demanding.  The entire three-day race was dominated by a close tussle between Birkett and Stott.  It saw them pitting their strengths – Birkett’s running and Stott’s paddling – against each other right up until the finish line.  In the end it came down to a sprint finish on the home stretch. Birkett managed to gain a slight advantage, beating Stott at his own game.  However, Birkett said he had no real edge over Stott; it really came down to who was less tired. 

A perfectionist when it comes to sport, Birkett credits his superb performance to his pre-race preparation.  Although he is almost an old hand at the Dusi, having already completed the race on six occasions and starting when he was only 13, he spent a lot of time in the valley, “tripping” or exploring the river.  Birkett started his intense training regime at the end of November.  It comprised paddling and running sessions of various intensities specifically designed to hone his speed and strength.  Much of his training was conducted in the company of his brother, Chris Birkett, who is also a UKZN student, and the family dog, a husky named Dakota.

Although he doesn’t have a coach, Birkett said he has ‘refined his training over the years’. He is a great fan of pilates and claims that one pilates session can be more exhausting than a 10 km run.  Nutrition and diet are high on his agenda and he tries to eat as naturally as possible, ascribing to the Spartan Health Regime.  In fact, he is so fastidious about his training that he chose to forgo his traditional Christmas dinner, only partaking in it a few days after the race.

Birkett’s studies took a back seat for the first two weeks of this semester as he focused on his Dusi quest.   Although a conscientious student, he felt he had dedicated so much of his recent life to his sport that he could justify taking two weeks off ’varsity.  With another Dusi win under his belt, he can now focus his mind on catching up the work he has missed.  Majoring in marketing and supply chain management, Birkett hopes to complete his BCom degree at the end of the year.  His
author email : crookesv@ukzn.ac.za