The Paralympic Games have never acknowledged paracanoeing as a discipline, however, that will all change in 2016 at the Rio De Janeiro Games and South Africa have got two paracanoeists – Jono Wing and Stuart Hogg – eyeing spots on the South African team that will travel to South America for the showpiece event.
Wing was a member of the South African team that went to the recent ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Russia in August and the youngster was unlucky to not advance past the first round of the K1 (LTA) Men’s 200m after being drawn in a stiff heat and was knocked out of the competition despite going faster than two others who qualified in weaker heats.
Wing’s coach Craig Mustard is excited by the arrival of a state of the art, brand new boat that the young star will be competing in from here on and feels that with hard work and this new equipment, the goal of competing at the Rio Paralympics is definitely not out of reach even though he is younger than the majority of the other competitors.
“As a 17-year old, the boat that Jono (Wing) was paddling at the World Champs was just too big for him!” Mustard said. “With him paddling against older guys he needs to have a boat that is suited to him and this new one is great because he lacks the weight the other paddlers carry.”
Stu Hogg had already shown great promise as a paddler when he represented South Africa as an able-bodied athlete before an unfortunate car crash that left him with one side of his body weaker than the other.
Not willing to sit back and let life pass him by though, he got back into a boat with intentions of paddling for his country once more.
A little way down the road Hogg’s goal was achieved when he was chosen for his country for a second time, this time as a para-canoeist, and he went on to compete at the Sprint World Championships.
Unfortunately the determined athlete’s dream was short lived as he soon realised that his hampered upper-body strength meant he would struggle to compete with the more abled para-canoeists.
Through a state-of-the-art boat and a revised competition category that is more suited to his disability, Hogg’s dream of reaching the top is however back on track once more.
“The new boat is based on a traditional Tahitian outrigger,” Hogg said. “It’s almost like paracanoe’s equivalent of C1 paddling where you only paddle on the one side and then you’ve got an outrigger which helps with stability because a lot of the disabled athletes have problems with balance.
“It’s something different but it’s actually quite fun once you get into it!”
Hogg explains that it was quite an easy decision to change to the outrigger type of paddling due to his disability and with a more specific boat to use, he has set his sights high while still not expecting too much at such an early stage of his career.
“I don’t have that upper body power for the sprints and as much as I have been training, I haven’t been getting competitive times. Having one side of my body stronger than the other it just seemed logical to change over and use my stronger side to power the boat.
“It’s early days, but I’m hoping that my times will get a bit more competitive internationally. We’ll just have to see how it goes next year though,” a cautious Hogg mentioned.
Boat manufacturers Nelo have come on board in helping Hogg out with his new craft and although the idea has been in the pipeline for a while, he has never had the chance to paddle in a boat like this previously due to its uniqueness.
“It was always one of those things that we spoke about trying but there just aren’t any boats of that sort in South Africa. A lot of the overseas companies make them, I just wasn’t sure of so it was a bit of a gamble trying to bring one out for me having not tried it before.
“When Nelo brought out the boat to South Africa this year then I knew what I was dealing with and so I spoke to Craig Mustard.
“While he was overseas he chatted to the guys from Nelo and the new boat got here about a month and a half ago!” he added.
With the Paralympics on the horizon, Hogg understands that he has his work cut out for him but his goal is to be at Rio in 2016 and he is willing to do what it takes to get there.
“The Paralympics is definitely the goal!
“It’s going to take some work because I have no idea where I stand and I’m still getting going. For my times to be competitive I have to be going the same speed in this as I was going in my K1!
“I know it’s going to be a challenge but I’ve got a lot of time on my hands so I’m keen to get a good base going now and then see how we go next year,” a focused Hogg concluded.