A Woronora couple is both jubilant and tired after winning one of Australia’s most grueling and prestigious flat water paddling events.
Steve Dawson, 47, and wife Kate, 43, took victory in the Massive Murray Paddle recently, previously known as the Murray Marathon.
It’s the first time they have contested the iconic event, a five-day, 404km race along the Murray River, from Yarrawonga to Swan Hill, with overnight stops along the way. It’s one of the longest annual flatwater canoe races in the world and was first run in 1969.
“Winning is a huge thrill,” said Mr Dawson, president of the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club and IT director for a media company.
“We went wondering how we would do six or seven hours at race pace and then get back on the river and do it all again the next day. After day two, we knew we could continue.
“In the end we came first on time and first on handicap, both by nearly two hours. We broke the class record set in 2009 and took line honours three days out of five. We also won the Ponde Trophy, which is the race winner’s award for the event.”
Married for 22 years and parents to four children, the couple were born and bred in New Zealand and moved to Australia in 2007, settling in the Sutherland Shire because they had friends here.
Mr Dawson started paddling 30 years ago but gave up the sport while his family was young. A move to Woronora put him back on the water, and six years ago his wife decided to join him. He said contesting the Murray event seemed like a logical progression from all the other events they had done.
“It was something that our friends Bruce and Joan Morison were very passionate about. Joan talked about it all the time and with huge passion for the challenge and the camaraderie. Many of our friends have done it and everybody has really enjoyed it.
“The race runs from Monday to Friday which meant time off work and away from the kids. It’s taken a few years to get all the pieces lined up, but our kids are older now (22, 20, 17 and 15) and two are working so it’s easier for us to get away for these big events.”
The Dawsons have been training hard all year, increasing distances along the way for a series of events including the Myall Classic (47km) and the Hawkesbury Classic (111km). The couple loves the fact that the shire offers so many great places to train for their sport, away from the hustle and bustle.
Aside from the adventure of the event, it is also designed to do good. This year it raised more than $100,000 for charity, with competitors allowed to nominate their favourite to raise funds for. The Dawsons chose Youth Off The Streets. While the event is a seriously contested race, it also does duty as an adventure/participation event aimed as much at people who want to challenge themselves as it is at racers.
Mr Dawson said the slowest paddlers, a couple from Canberra, only began paddling three weeks before the event.
“They took 52 hours to finish but they ... really enjoyed themselves. There were also school relay teams who did 20-25km legs each day, as well as a team of police and Aboriginal kids. It was great to see the sense of achievement.”
The Dawsons will go back in 2017 to defend their title, making the decision as they carried their boat to the trailer on the last day.
“We finished the 404km in 30 hours 5 minutes and 36 seconds. That 5:36 is going to sit like a monkey on our backs until we get to race again next year.”
The race was not without its challenges, including temperatures ranging from seven degrees to 38 degrees, but the fact it was fun and everyone was so friendly enabled them to put the challenges to one side and focus on what they wanted to achieve.
The couple is also extremely proud to have taken out the prestigious Morison Trophy after a special one-off event run by the club. Named for the late couple who were synonymous with the sport both in the shire and nationally, it was recently awarded for the second time in the wake of the Morisons’ deaths. Ross and Robin Bingle won it last year.
“Bruce and Joan were inspirational figures in Australian paddle sports as well as being great friends of ours,” Mr Dawson said. “It’s very special to have our names on the trophy. I think the best tribute to their memory was to go fast and enjoy ourselves like they would have. They paddled together for decades and I like that the trophy has only been won by husband and wife teams. Bruce and Joan would have approved.”