Paddling, adventure racing, mountain biking, even professional fishing, Martin Dreyer has done it all. The 44-year-old has won the Dusi Canoe Marathon seven times plus seven Non-Stop Dusi wins, the gruelling Land Rover G4 Challenge and he holds the record for the Freedom Challenge mountain bike ride across South Africa. For the last few years he’s been giving back and helping youngsters from the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KZN realise their potential through mountain biking, paddling and multisport. Now the mountain biking fraternity better watch out as his Zulus are coming as part of the RMB Change a Life Zulu Mountain Bike Team. The coach and mentor says, “It’s easy for me to be focussed and committed because the way I see it, sport is life and everything else is just waiting.”
You’re clearly a man who wants to help. Where do you get this drive from?
I stumbled upon “wanting to help” by chance when I saw the incredible potential in the Valley of a Thousand Hills when I spent 100 of the 120 days in the Valley training with Michael Mbanjwa leading up to our historical Dusi win in 2008. I always cheer for the underdog and so how could I turn a blind eye to these youngsters that ran barefoot with us, oozing talent but did not have the support structures in place to achieve. The drive to help then snowballed and there was no turning back.
What’s your fondest memory of your mentor, the late Graeme Pope-Ellis?
Ah there are so many… Quality time spent with the Pope riding our bicycles on the Wild Coast; engineering sneaks with Google Earth for the Imana Wild Ride; Sunday afternoon chats; having tea and eating copious amounts of Wendy’s treats on his farm, Dugeni; tripping the Dusi with him; being overwhelmed by his love and knowledge of nature and his ability to connect with the locals along the river.
What was it about the Dusi that made you come back for more every year?
I loved the adversity the race presented – gnarly goat path portages, technical river, unpredictable conditions and temperatures… but ultimately I loved the incredible camaraderie and atmosphere surrounding this historic journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
What’s the funniest story from your Freedom Challenge adventures?
Finishing this year’s ride with my bib-short straps over my cycling top; packing a set of spare brake pads, thinking a set could be used for both wheels but for that you need two sets of brake pads; thinking the section from Willowmore to Prince Albert was 90km when in fact it was 180km, so I ran out of food and water and had to grovel.
How do you push yourself to complete a challenge of this magnitude?
It was easy: I wanted to experience the thrill of riding in below zero conditions, see how far I could ride in a day and experience the isolation of night riding in complete wilderness. Pushing yourself is and should be a personal thing. You do it for the love of being on your bike and in nature, not for the prize money – because there isn’t any.
What do you feel is your top accomplishment as an athlete and why?
Winning the Land Rover G4 Challenge, a four-week adventure across Thailand, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia, against 17 other countries. Because it was an individual event, with myself representing South Africa, it wasn’t easy as I tore an adductor midway, there was massive hype due to the richest prize purse ever in adventure racing – R980,000, with a winner takes all, and “thanks for coming handshake” to second place. I experienced my biggest pressure situation ever – two minutes before the end of this physical odyssey, they threw a curve ball: You had to put the first letter of the first name of all 18 competitors in alphabetical order before you could continue. There were four of us doing this task at the same time, and just thinking about it now, has made my heart rate go up 30 beats.
Describe the kind of satisfaction you get when one of your Change A Life guys do well?
It’s an emotional satisfaction as you have no control of their race and you can only encourage the guys verbally and mentally. From doing well, many of the guys put their winnings and incentives into building homes for their families – to me that’s the ultimate in satisfaction – knowing what CAL is doing, is good.
Do you miss professional fishing?
No. But I miss the awesome snowboarding trips I did when we had time off and the beauty of living on Vancouver Island. The fishing itself was bastard hard, but I know it definitely gave me a positive grounding to endure adversity in my subsequent sporting career. I regret having fished professionally for six years, the prime of my life sport-wise, 23-29 years old. In hindsight, three years would have been perfect.
When your wife Jeannie beats you on the bike, how does this make you feel?
I love it, because she has such a smug glee of happiness about her when she waits at the finish line for me. Being married, happy wife means happy husband. I would like to say that it is unlikely to happen if I have my A-Game with me, but I can hear Jeannie chirping that ﾒ”It’s not what the results currently reflect.” What can I say, she’s a machine.
What is it about the Valley of a Thousand Hills that you love and why?
I love the remoteness of the region, the massive rolling hills, the tranquil rural subsistence lifestyle of most of its inhabitants – making me realise you don’t need much to be happy. It has become a playground for me, especially now that I spend a lot of time exploring unused roads and paths with my newly-formed RMB Change a Life Zulu Mountain Bike Team. Who doesn’t love a playground!
Originally published in September/October 2013 issue 61.