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Dr Marion Young – in her canoe, and where she is
more commonly known – with her horses.

Dr Marion Young, an animal scientist with the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, is a lady of many talents.  Not only is she a horse guru, it turns out that she is also a mean paddler.  Young was the ninth lady home in the 2013 Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon, and proud winner of the Sub Veteran category.

‘I am really happy to say that I achieved my goal of a top ten finish – and against girls that are half my age!’ said Young.  ‘It is really special to see that effort in training and in attitude does pay off.  As the Asics advert says: “I am made of all the days you don’t see.  Not just the one you do.”’

Young started paddling late in life.  ‘I was on my horses and everything and that is a really expensive sport to be competitive in now,’ she said.  ‘I did my first Dusi in 2009 with my younger brother Glen in a K2, just because we had to do the “bucket list” thing.’  The Youngs started paddling and joined the Natal Canoe Club (NCC) in time for the 2009 race qualifiers. ‘The bug bit, and as they say, the rest is history.’

Young is an avid fan of paddling.  ‘I get to spend time outdoors in our special country with special people.’  She joked that unlike her horses, canoes didn’t have to be fed and they generally listened when one told them where to go!  ‘Paddling presents that opportunity to be fit and live life,’ she said.  ‘You get out of it what you put in to it.’

2013 has been Young’s most successful Dusi to date.  ‘I only kicked up a gear last year,’ she said.  ‘Before that I was pretty casual.’  Young explained that all qualifiers and river races during the season culminate in one’s performance at the Dusi.  ‘I had the privilege of training with Mr Len Jenkins (Senior) from last year, and we worked really hard for a good result, with some eyes on flat water marathon goals as well.’

Young agreed that every Dusi is unique.  ‘We had huge water this year so that was a challenge,’ she joked.  ‘I believe that the reason we come back to do the Dusi each year is because each time, it presents a unique permutation of fitness, people, personal, seasonal, water and logistical challenges.  So the race is essentially new every year.’

Young has seen some changes in the Dusi over the years.  She believes that the Dusi’s current sponsorship partner, The Unlimited, has added a new dimension in terms of increased sponsorship and infrastructure.   ‘I think that the emphasis on the development paddlers has also made the sport more competitive across the board and I think this is good,’ she said.  ‘One of the young black girls in the development programme at NCC crossed the line on Saturday and I cried with her.  It is such a remarkable achievement, and it is now available to those that want to tackle it.’ 

Young commented that SA paddler Brigitte Hartley’s bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games had brought a new professionalism to the canoeing agenda, even at club level.  ‘The NCC is growing and very supportive and forward thinking in their approach to canoeing,’ she said.

Young prefers paddling K1’s (singles) to K2’s (doubles). With the 2013 Dusi successfully behind her, she can now proudly display her Dusi Rat sticker on her canoe – the reward all aspirant paddlers get after five years in the saddle.

A win at the SA K1 River Champs at the Fish River Canoe Marathon in October 2012 in the Sub Veteran category secured KZN Colours for Young.  ‘I was very chuffed with that,’ she said. 

When asked about future Dusis, she was quick to respond:  ‘Oh yes!  I joke with my brother Glen that when we did our first Dusi, we had a great time but we didn’t have a clue.  Now I tell him he owes me another Dusi because now at least I know where to go!”

Young believes that paddling teaches you valuable life lessons. ‘We are the summative configuration of our coach, training partners, attitude, seconders (my mom is the world’s best seconder!), boats, paddles, club, effort and opportunity.  I am just grateful to all the special people in that.  The Dusi teaches one lots of things.  I hope to attend the same goal-driven approach to my equine research and teaching at UKZN.’

Young had some advice for any wannabe paddlers out there.  She assured them that it was never too late to start something new and to develop a passion for it, set goals, and make the sacrifice and hard work count

 ‘You can paddle at 9 km per hour and you get down the river, but when you train harder, the magic happens!’

It’s back on the water on Tuesday for Dr Marion Young – ‘You gotta love the sport!’ she jokes.