27 year old Abbey Miedema is known to most people of have followed the annual Dusi Canoe Marathons over the years, her surname becoming as well known in female canoeing circles as the Chalupski name is in her make counterpart’s division.
But don’t let her know that you’re making comparisons: she’s more than happy to beat the guys to prove a point, if only for the fun of it!
Abbey household name status doesn’t phase her though, and she’s remarkably unimpressed with the degree of her own success.
gsport was delighted at the opportunity to engage her in a Q&A interview for the December Water Sports issue. Read on further to learn about her love for her sport, and her dedication to success.
Are you married, or otherwise involved? To whom?
I’m not married, but have been seeing Martin Dreyer, for three and a half years.
Where are you based and why?
I live in Lakeside in Cape Town. I grew up there and all my family still live there. Most of my friends are there too.
The training is great, especially running in the mountains. The rivers are a lot more tame than the Natal ones, so that would be my only complaint … other than the South-Easterly wind that enjoys pumping in summer!
How long have you been canoeing?
I started canoeing when I finished school, so since the beginning of 1998. My boyfriend at the time paddled, and I eventually got bored of seconding him.
How did you get into it?
I learnt to paddle as a result of being on surf-ski’s in lifesaving, but then I got more involved in canoeing on the rivers with the guys I seconded for.
What makes you keep on doing it?
The love for it. I am passionate about river paddling, the time spent on the river with friends, and the challenge of the rapids makes me want to do it even more.
I am competitive, so when I achieve, it makes me want to train even harder to do better.
Is it an expensive or inexpensive hobby?
Fairly expensive. My most enjoyable race for the year is the Dusi Canoe Marathon in January. It is in KwaZulu Natal, so living in Cape Town makes the journey more pricey.
In Cape Town, to go to the river is generally an hour to two and a half hour drive one way – so petrol adds up.
Equipment is also expensive, ranging roughly between R7,000 and R,8000 for the top-of-the-range river canoe, and after a KZN season, I usually need a new one!
Lucky for me, the Kayak Centre in Natal sponsors me my canoes, and TaxiTrucks supports me financially.
Does your sport promote inclusion of women from historically disadvantaged communities / backgrounds?
Due to the fact that it is a water-based sport, it is a little more difficult. However, the development programme (in KZN specifically) is very proactive in trying to get young men and women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds into the sport.
They have to be able to swim first, and then they are encouraged to try out paddling. All the dams in Natal are compulsory lifejacket areas, mostly due to the development programmes.
So, yes the sport is trying to include young women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, but it still has a long way to go – especially on the female front.
When you’re not in the water, when do you miss it the most?
I think when it rains and I see the rivers flowing wildly. The atmosphere and vibe around the Dusi Canoe Marathon in Natal, just makes you feel like you want to be on the water and involved.
Also on those beautiful, warm and still Cape Town days, it is very inviting to go for a paddle.
What is the most important safety tip(s) for a canoeist?
Never feel pressured into shooting rapids that look too big. There is always a portage (carrying the canoe past the rapid) option.
Make sure that you are stable enough to feel confident in your boat, and know how the water and currents work.
For river paddling, the fastest design of boat doesn’t always win. One swim could break your boat, and end your race.
Go down a river with experienced paddlers to learn from.
Know what to do if you fall out or get stuck next to a rock (ie: which side of your boat to be on, how to get to the side of the river, whether to stay with your boat or not, etc).
Who is your regular team-mate in canoeing?
How long have you been canoeing together?
About 4 years.
What is your greatest achievement?
Winning the Dusi, and the Avon Descent in Australia.
What are your future ambitions in canoeing?
Stay injury free, and get maximum enjoyment out of it.
What are the upcoming events over the summer season that you’re preparing for?
The Dusi Canoe Marathon in Jan 2007 is my main focus. There are smaller races before and after it, mostly in KwaZulu Natal.
What is the usual response to you as a girl in your sport?
We compete on a level playing field, but the portages on Dusi get really physical.
The guys find it hard to believe that the girls can run with their canoes on protages.
Is it worth your while financially / can you make a living out of it?
I don’t think that I’ll ever get rich from it, but it is a great lifestyle.
I am lucky enough to be supported by TaxiTrucks financially, which has allowed me to train more. That has allowed me to earn some prize money from doing what I love, and what I would do anyway.
Is your position unique, or are there opportunities for girls to follow in your steps?
River paddling is very specific. It takes time and practice to develop your skills. Anyone can do it provided they are prepared to put in the work.
What does it mean to be a woman in today’s times?
It’s challenging competing against the men, because most of my races we start together. It can be frustrating at times not being physically as strong, but that makes it all the more sweeter when you beat the guys.
Who is your favourite celebrity?
Too many to single out, but I admire any sportsperson who puts everything on the line to achieve their goal.
Who is your favourite female sports star? Kelly Holmes. Her focus and ultimate success in the 800m and 1500m in the last Olympics are what inspire me most about her.
Have you had much opportunity to travel the world doing your sport?
I am starting to now. I have raced in India and Perth, Australia. Spain is next…
What do you miss most when you’re out of town / country?
Family and friends, but never away long enough.
Do you exercise (other than canoeing)?
I run and swim. And I try out mountain biking every now and then.
How do you stay in shape?
It’s a way of life. I try to eat healthily, and train consistently.
What physical activity would you NEVER consider, and why?
Hang Gliding. Feels too out-of-control.
Do you follow a diet?
I try to eat a balanced combination of foods. I don’t eat red meat or chicken, so I need to be aware of my protein and iron intake.
How easy is it for women to make healthy lifestyle choices these days?
There is so much information out there, so it is easy. You have to want to though.
How do you go about finding sponsors?
When I started, it was difficult. So I got incentive sponsors according to my results in particular races. Now I have managed to secure a full time sponsor based on my past results.
Once you have some results behind your name, it becomes easier. Always remember: You need to give back more than what you get, and deal with it like a business arrangement.
Who are your sponsors?
Taxi Trucks supports me financially, Kayak Centre provides me with top-class boats, New Balance supports my footwear and apparel needs, and Rudy Project protect my eyes.
Citroen Durban lend me a top-of-the-range Citroen when I am in KZN training and racing.
What do you do for a job?
I am a Personal Trainer at Body Excel Private Gym on the Groot Constantia Wine Estate.