Prominent amongst the early entries for the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnership with FNB on 29 and 30 January was that of 58 year-old Owen Hemmingway, marking a return to the famous race for the Maritzburg paddler who for decades held the record for most races completed.
After taking that record to 25 medals, Hemmingway was consigned to the river banks by surgery to his left shoulder, and then a year later similar surgery to the other shoulder, allowing Colin Simpkins and Dave Macleod to equal his record for Draks completed.
“It was terrible, absolutely terrible, to have to watch from the bank at Black Murray rapid and see all the paddlers having fun in the clean water,” recalls Hemmingway. “I was green with envy. I had to walk for half an hour with my arm in a sling to get down to Black Murray seconding my son Ian, worrying if I was going to slip and hurt the shoulder again.
“Then I saw Ian going through the rapid in less than five seconds,” he added.
After nurturing his son’s passion for paddling for an early age, Hemmingway is now reaping the rewards of his efforts as his son, who has emerged as a talented paddled with a top fifty finish at the recent Fish Marathon in Cradock to his credit, is eager to help his father get another Drak finish to his name.
“He has told me that there is no way he is going to let those other two chaps overtake my record and has offered to take me down in the back of a double, even if I can’t hold a paddle,” he said.
Hemmingway had an enviable 100% record of finishing every single edition of the famous Underberg race until he was forced to miss his first one due to a business trip to China.
The cancellation of the 2021 Drak due to the Covid lockdown gave him time to recover from his shoulder surgery without conceding another Drak finish to his challengers.
The same thing happened with his remarkable record of having finished every single one of the 32 editions of the iconic Tugela Marathon. “I dodged a bullet in 2021 for sure,” says Hemmingway.
While Hemmingway enjoys the light-hearted banter in the Super Trout batch that consists of all the paddlers that have completed twenty or more editions of the Drak Challenge, he has a plan to safeguard his record for the most Drak finishes.
“You don’t have to beat them, you just have to outlive them. They are both old ballies,” he concluded provocatively.