Olympian Hartley on her hair-raising Challenge at the Drak | SASCOC - SASCOC
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Olympian Hartley on her hair-raising Challenge at the Drak

Our leading women’s sprint canoeist, Olympic medallist Bridgitte Hartley had a hair-raising experience at the recent N3TC Drak Challenge over the weekend.

Opting to enter the event at the last minute to get a chance to race on the river before getting back into the sprinting regime, her boat was swept away by the raging Umzimkulu River, apparently to disappear forever, forcing her to take an unscheduled exit from the race.

According to Hartley, the serious rain and flooding river totally disrupted the organization of the Drak Challenge and the start was delayed by nearly three hours. ÔÇ£We were meant to start at eight o’clock but the race only got on the way at eleven.ÔÇØ

Hartley is not totally sure of the facts, but according to the ‘Tweets’ she has read, it seems as if only about half of the 1000 canoeists who had entered, actually started the race, and in the end just over 200 managed to survive both days on the river. ÔÇ£On pictures that were taken of the event, many broken boats and lost paddles can be seen.ÔÇØ

Hartley’s problems started when she was forced to take a ‘swim’.

ÔÇ£The fast-flowing water made it difficult for me to get to the river bank. I ended up being caught among some overhanging tree branches. Under normal circumstances, these trees are quite a few metres away from the river bank.

ÔÇ£I managed to go underneath a few of the branches but it was scary. Tree blockages can be quite dangerous, especially if you are in a fast-flowing river and are being pulled under.

ÔÇ£I heard somebody shouting to me to let go of my boat, which I did. My plan was to get out of the water and then run along the river bank in search of my boat, but it didn’t work out that way. I got out on the side where the river bank became a cliff, making it impossible for me to run there.

ÔÇ£I had no other choice but to walk up the mountain and catch a lift with a friend to where the first stage finished.

ÔÇ£I returned later to try and find my boat, but had no luck. I heard people say that my boat did eventually drift to the finish but it was in pieces.┬á However, it could not be confirmed that it was in fact my boat. On such a dramatic day, it could have been anybody’s boat.ÔÇØ

In February Hartley plans to go on a training camp in Port Edward. It will be with the Austrian squad who is being coached by Nandor Almasi, her Hungarian mentor for the past few years.

During the training camp Hartley will make her way down to the Dusi as she was asked to host the MEC of Sport during the Dusi. ÔÇ£The organisers of the Dusi want me to act as an ‘ambassador’ for canoeing over the three days.ÔÇØ


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