SA canoeist Nosipho Mthembu continues to paddle her way to glory

Canoeist Nosipho Mthembu has a long list of achievements, including becoming the first black woman to qualify for the World Junior Marathon in China and bringing home gold from the All Africa Games in Morocco in 2019.

South African canoeist, Nosipho Mthembu. Picture: nosiphoayandamthem/Instagram

JOHANNESBURG – "I've been winning almost every competition, I went to the African games in a K2 with top women in SA, and we won. I made a team to the World Marathon. I did Dusi in a mixed K2 and we were third. I left some out because they are many... these are the highlights," said Nosipho Mthembu.

Canoeist Nosipho Mthembu from Shongweni in KwaZulu-Natal has completed four successive Dusi Canoe marathons, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

Over the past weekend, she took part in the KwaZulu-Natal marathon where she and her partner Bazothini Gcwensa come third in the senior's race and first in the U23 race. A few weeks ago, she also performed well at the SA Canoeing Sprints.

“My last race was SA Canoeing Sprints and I got eight medals - four golds, two silvers, and two bronzes,” said Mthembu to Eyewitness News.

The athlete has also represented South Africa at the 2019 African Games where she won a senior team gold medal and participated in 2019.

"I was born in Marianhill Hospital and grew up at Shongweni Dam. Growing up for me wasn't easy because of the life challenges we faced at home, where no one was working, and we had to struggle for everything," Mthembu said.

The 19-year-old became the first black woman to qualify for the World Junior Marathon in China and brought home gold from the All Africa Games in Morocco in 2019.

“My biggest achievement was going to China for the World Junior Marathon in 2019. I am the first black girl to qualify for the worlds. And I’ve also been to Morocco for African Games and won team gold there where I was in a K4 with Bridgett Hartley, Donna Hutton, and Esti Van Tonder. I was nominated for the SA Sports Awards in 2016 and also qualified to go to Namibia for canoe polo. I have also won the KwaZulu-Natal Natal Canoeing awards many times as the best junior or guppy of the year."

Mthembu started her sporting career at age 11. She had asked her parents to join her friends who paddled at Shongweni Dam and they had declined, citing that the body of water was dangerous and was said to have a large snake living in it.

"I loved sport from an early age. I started by doing karate, and I was forced by my dad to stop because of some reasons, so I went to soccer, just when I was playing soccer, my friends were already in paddling. They asked me to come and join them and I did that without even asking from my parents because there are rumours that there is a big snake in the dam," said the canoeist.

The KZN-based athlete continued paddling behind her parents' back but eventually had to confess when an opportunity to fly to Cape Town come up.

“After a few days, I had to race my first race after being taught paddling for four days. I was a fast learner. I continued paddling until I made the team to SA Champs, which was in Cape Town. That's where problems started because someone had to tell my parents that I'm paddling even though I lied to the coach that they knew that I was paddling. He is the one who told them, and they didn't fight, they said I must do what I want to do because they didn't know where my future stands. Since that day, I never stopped paddling,” beamed the champion.

Mthembu went on to win the Ministerial Recognition of Excellence award at the Momentum gsport Awards and she wants to make sure many young girls get an opportunity to take up canoeing.

"I need to train very hard to get to the level I want but doing that without a coach is very hard. My coach dumped me a long time, so I'm training myself," Mthembu said.

The KwaZulu-Natal canoeist said that she has received a lot of support and motivation from her family, especially taking part in a sporting code that receives very little funding. KZN Canoeing and the KZN Department of Sport, Art, and Culture have played an important role in her advancement in the sport, often providing the necessary equipment and support for her races.

Mthembu said she’s grateful for the help, but she could use more help as she would one day like to raise the South African flag at the World Sprints and Olympics.

“I didn't pay for anything, everything was covered, but they didn't buy me new equipment. I'm suffering with it and it's getting worse as much as I'm going up. It seems like I have to buy myself everything because they are supporting juniors more than us.

"I need sponsors. If someone could please help me with a sponsor, I would really appreciate it and I have some results and still more to come. I don't have any sponsors even though I've been to international competitions,” said Mthembu.