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Damon, Mthobisi out to stamp their mark on Dusi

The battle for the coveted junior boys’ Kirby Trophy and junior girls’ Lions Trophy at this year’s Dusi Canoe Marathon will be yet another fascinating affair as the sport’s emerging young stars look to leave their mark on the race.

The Under-18 boys clash is one expected to be dominated by the rapidly developing Damon Stamp (Maritzburg College) and Mthobisi Cele (Computershare Change a Life Academy) after the pair burst onto the scene in emphatic fashion at the Hansa Fish Canoe Marathon in the Eastern Cape late last year.

Since then, the pair, pictured right, has cleaned up throughout the KZN river marathon season and are now well poised to add the Dusi’s junior boys’ title to their combination’s rapidly increasing list of achievements. But the schoolboys have their eyes set on an even bigger goal as well.

ÔÇ£We are definitely hoping to try take the juniors title,ÔÇØ confirmed Stamp. ÔÇ£A top 20 would however also make us very happy and we’re actually really hoping we could possibly even sneak into the top 10 as well!

ÔÇ£All of our pre-races have gone really well and we’re feeling very good at the moment. “It would be great to try mix it up with some of the seniors guys,ÔÇØ he added with a nervous yet determined chuckle.

For the pair, who knew very little about one another 12 months ago, the journey they have travelled in the build-up to this year’s Dusi has been one about far more than just racing together though.

Their unique partnership has seen Cele, from the Nagle Dam region, spend numerous days and nights with the Stamp family on their farm just outside Greytown, which has created a fascinating cultural dynamic for the two young men to experience and the story of their resultant friendship reading like a true South African fairytale.

ÔÇ£I didn’t even know Mthobisi existed until he came flying past me to beat me in the Hi-Q Challenge at Alberts Falls Dam during last year’s Dusi build-up,ÔÇØ chuckled Stamp. ÔÇ£We got chatting after the race and that was when we threw around the idea of paddling Dusi together this year.

ÔÇ£Just before Fish, which was our first real test in the boat together, Mthobisi came to stay with us on our farm which was quite an interesting experience both for him as well as for my family and I. Neither of us had ever really experienced another culture at home other than our own so at first it was quite awkward for all of us.

ÔÇ£That awkwardness was soon broken down though and now we aren’t just paddling partners but really good friends as well!ÔÇØ the Maritzburg College matric pupil added with worldly insight and perspective beyond many his age possess.

While appreciative of what their partnership may have done for them in life, the two are however still determined to put their best foot forward in this year’s Dusi and use every piece of knowledge and experience they have accumulated over the past couple of years.

Both have taken on the Dusi twice previously with Cele finishing sixth in the Under-18 category with Emmanuel Kirk in 2012 before being the ninth Under-18 across the line in 2013’s K1 year.

For Stamp, his Dusi history reads slightly differently having completed his first ever Dusi socially with his father, Stephen, in 2012 before going on to claim the silver medal in the Under-18 boys’ category last year.

ÔÇ£Paddling with my dad in 2012 is still my best paddling memory,ÔÇØ explained Stamp proudly. ÔÇ£I drove but my dad, who was very good friends with Graeme Pope-Ellis and so had been taught a lot about the Dusi by the Dusi King, taught me so much!ÔÇØ

Picture: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media

Whilst Stamp and Cele focus themselves on their junior boys’ feat, there is also a fair chance the junior girls title won’t fall too far away from the Stamp family either as Camilla Pennefather and Cana Peek, younger sister of Stamp’s girlfriend and now Under-23 rising talent Jordan Peek, look to overcome the challenge of Sarah Harries and Julia Trodd in search of the junior girls Dusi spoils.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£Cana is going really well at the moment and Camilla is a good river paddler so it will be exciting to see how they go and maybe be able to stand on the top step of the podium together,ÔÇØ said Stamp.