10 August 2021 – the day before race one.  What an adventure this has been!  From the onset of the trials for the Junior World’s Squad, we knew that this was going to be a long journey – and had been warned by previous parents who have been on this path, that this would be all consuming and remarkably rewarding….  and it’s a fact – it has been nothing short of AMAZING (and stressful).

 It all started in the middle of January when our four Jeppe boys – Nic, Aidan, Darian and Josh were invited to join the National Junior Training Squad.   Training commenced with the squad training in sculls at VLC or Roodeplaat and the assessments started immediately.   Scull boat training evolved into a multiple selection of boats and the revised training squad competed at SA Champs Regatta in April achieving fantastic results against the Varsity crews.  Coach Chris Paynter and previous Jeppe MIC Devin Cripwell were both very active in the training programs and formed part of the coaching team.

With the first milestone achieved, the preliminary squad set their sights on qualifying the boats for World’s.  The exact criteria remains a mystery to me (assessments, prognostics, weekly improvement etc etc).  All we knew was that the boats had to achieve a certain prognostic (as compared to the world record times for their specific boat) and it was going to be a very tough race.  We were warned that it is gruelling and that the boat / athletes would be eliminated immediately if they were not successful.   Four junior boats (JM2x, JW2x, JW4+ and JM4+) competed against 2 of the National U23 SA crews namely Katherine Williams in a skull and Masutha/Pienaar in the pair and after a race full of suspense and absolute awe for these athletes, all four the junior boats qualified!  The squad was announced soon after, with Nic and Jordan selected to row the JM2x with Chris Paynter as their coach.

One would think that it would be smooth sailing from here (well, for the parents at least), but it got tricky – thanks to Covid. As a start, we were not sure if the Championship would continue in Plovdiv and had to wait for that confirmation.  The squad continued to train despite this uncertainty and confirmation was received on 10 May! The next hurdle (and arguably the most important) was to receive an invite from the Bulgarian Department of Sport to allow the squad to enter as South Africa is still considered a ‘red country’ for travel entry.  This letter was expected at the end of June and eventually received at the end of July.  The objective of the organising committee did not waiver and with the parent‘s buy-in, the objective was clear – get the squad to Plovdiv!   

The squad also missed out on the traditional two-week intensive training camp in Tzaneen due to the local travel restrictions but were fortunate enough to continue training at Roodeplaat – under strict covid regulations and team ‘bubbles’.    In-between all of this, some of the squad members got Covid and training stopped whilst they fully recovered.  Some nail biting moments included last minute collection of Visa’s in Pretoria and eagerly awaiting negative covid travelling tests….. but finally, we said our goodbyes and the entire squad and their four coaches boarded the plane – destination Plovdiv (via Doha, Bucharest and Sofia).

On what seems to be the other side of the world (one hour ahead of ours) the squad have settled into their hotel and are adjusting to the hot weather in Plovdiv and enjoying the Plovdiv course.  The typical temperature at 16:30 is 38 degrees and the sun sets just before 22:00.  Coach Chris haskept us up to date with ‘proof of life‘photos and a video here and there to calm the nerves and share in the excitement.

A day before race day (Heat 1) and all our nerves are frayed (it feels like one thousand times more intense than a normal regatta day).  The draw is out for the first heat and Nic and Jordan will be competing in Heat 1.  The first two crews will progress to the semi-final A/B and the remaining crews will be able to compete again on Thursday in the Repechage where there first three crews progress to the semi-final A/B on Saturday with the remaining crews advancing to the C final.  The A and B finals will be held on Sunday with live coverage on the world rowing website.   

It has certainly been the most incredible journey as a parent, and I can only imagine how exciting this must be for the athletes.  Their discipline, dedication, passion and commitment to the sport is undeniable – and this all whilst they have to keep the focus on matric or grade 11 academics.  They have also had to remove themselves socially from friends and family to try and isolate as much as possible.   These young athletes are champions – no matter what the outcome is on race day!

To the Jeppe Rowing Club, parents and community – you have so much to look forward to in the years to come given the remarkable talent that we have in our Jeppe Rowing Club!

Finally, there are no words to describe the overwhelming love and support from the rowing community and Jeppe parents. Thank you – you are absolutely remarkable!

Follow Nic as he races in the Semis A/B on Saturday the 14th August in the JM2x at 10:10 SA time – Follow the race

Watch the Interview with Nic talking about his journey to being selected for the Under 19 squad – Click Here

Shaun and Margaret Bonthuys


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