As the organising committee prepares to roll out the 24th edition of the popular N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon, schools and community organisations are poised to once again be the biggest winners at the event.
The unique structure of the race, which has grown into one of the biggest on the national calendar, hinges on delvering value for money to the entrants, and to empowering local community organisations to benefit from the event.
One of the longest standing associations is with Pevensey Place, a unique commune for Cerebral Palsied adults, located just outside Underberg.
For more than a decade, they have sold tea and pancakes at the Drak Challenge, generating an important income stream for the ground-breaking self-sufficient farming commune they run.
Underberg School has also been a long-standing supporter of the event, and by making their school sports fields available for camping, they create a revenue stream for the schools coffers on the weekend.
New to the race this year is the involvement of St Patrick’s school, a small private school that caters from pre-school to high school, located in nearby Kokstad. They have taken over the catering for the event, which is now based at the sprawling Underberg Country Club.
Co-ordinated by Greg Hitchins, who will be paddling the race with his daughter, they plan to provide plenty of paddler friendly fare like burgers and chicken burgers on the Friday night at registration, and spare ribs and chicken breasts on the festive Saturday night.
“All the money we raise goes to capital expenditure at the school,” confirmed Hitchins. “Right now we are working towards building a new sports pavilion at the school.”
The Underberg Education Academy also stands to benefit from running a useful vehicle shuttle service that allows paddlers to drop their vehicles at the start and collect them at the finish of each stage.
“The N3TC Drak Challenge is a very important event for this community,” said race committee chair Andrew Barnett.
“Economically, it is one of the biggest weekends, if not the biggest weekend, of the entire year for this local economy.
“But more importantly, we have managed to put together a plan that allows the community organisations to get involved, contribute to the event, and raise funds for themselves, which is a very important part of the event model for us,” he said.
“They also get a chance to market themselves and be part of the community spirit and hospitality of the event,” he added.
The race also collects funds for the ongoing black wattle eradication programme, focussed on the uMzimkhulu Valley, which has resulted in vast areas of the alien invaders being removed from the banks of the river.
The 2017 N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon takes place in the Southern Drakensberg on 21 and 22 January 2017.