As paddlers around the world prepare to take part in the Ultra Paddle, the virtual alternative to the cancelled Berg River Canoe Marathon, the race's most prolific winner Hank McGregor has confirmed that he will join the project by paddling the full distance on the Berg River from 8 to 11 July.
The event organisers have made it clear that McGregor is doing the four day paddle in his personal capacity, with a longer term view to help promote the 60th anniversary event next year.
The Ultra Paddle concept has quickly gathered massive support as canoeists from around the world rally to cover the race distance of 240km, either in four sessions or else in smaller, more manageable sessions before the end of July, and in the process contribute to Canoeing South Africa's Covid-19 food relief programme.
"I am really stoked to be involved in the Ultra Paddle," said McGregor from his home base at Blue Lagoon in Durban where elite athletes have just returned to training in adherence with the coronavirus lockdown regulations.
"I am going for the gold option, which means covering the distance over four days.
"I have decided to make the trek down to the actual Berg River and see if I can do my virtual paddle there," he explained. "I am looking forward to getting back on the river. The Berg River is awesome. It is cold and it is an experience!"
McGregor's Ultra Paddle will start in Paarl on the day that the Berg River Canoe Marathon would have started on, and paddlers will be able to follow his progress over the four stages on social media.
He added that he would be excited to bump into other fit paddlers keen to do a leg of their Ultra Paddle on the actual river, to provide some company and some relief by being able to ride their slip wave during the long paddle.
"It might be a bit lonely for me, so it would be exciting to share part of the challenge with fellow paddlers committed to making a contribution to the Ultra Paddle," said McGregor.
Entries for the Ultra Paddle cost R150, and the challenge has resonated with paddlers around the world keen to test themselves against the tough ultra-marathon distance.
"We already have paddlers in the UK, Australia, Sweden and the United States committed to doing the 240km Ultra Paddle virtual race, and many local paddlers who may not have been able to travel to the Berg but are itching to set a new paddling goal in this lockdown have taken it on," said Ultra Paddler coordinator Brandon Macleod.
"While Berg regulars will definitely miss not being able to paddle the race this year, they will be able to share in the enactment of each of the four legs of the route through the coverage of ten time champion Hank McGregor.
"This is the first stepping stone to inspire people to be part of the 2021 Berg, which will be the 60th anniversary of this classic South African event," he added.