32 year old Alexa Cole, winner of the 2012 South African K1 and K2 canoeing marathon titles and other local and international canoeing titles, manages to combine being a sports champion, a wife, devoted mother and successful businesswoman. She will be winging her way to Rome in September to take part in the World Canoe Marathon Championships which takes place on the Tiber River between the 15 and 26 September.
The middle daughter of Sylvia and Dr Adrian Lombard of Fish Hoek, Alexa was a pupil at Fish Hoek Primary and the Fish Hoek High Schools where she took part in all the sports on offer. At the age of 12 she joined the Fish Hoek Lifesaving Club as a Nipper. It was only when she was in high school that she started to take her canoeing seriously. In her matric year she was included in the South African Junior Marathon team, competing in the 1998 World championships before a home crowd at Zandvlei in the U18 category.
”I am not naturally strong physically but I have always had a very strong competitive inner spirit. I wanted to be really good at something but was never sure that I would make it. I consistently became better at paddling over the years- a slow build up to reach my goals,” smiles Alexa.
After school Alexa trained as a Pre-primary teacher at the Mowbray Teachers’ Training College, taking the opportunity of a more flexible time programme to focus on her canoeing. She would spend the December holidays training in Natal, where she took part in six or seven Dusi Canoe marathons, bringing home three gold medals from her K2 races and two silver medals for K1.
Although passionate about young children and enjoying her teaching at Fish Hoek Pre-Primary School, Alexa resigned from her post, finding it difficult to combine teaching and racing. “I miss a lot about teaching, especially the children with whom I had a special bond. Each day was different, exciting. Maybe one day I will go back to teaching in some way!”
Meanwhile, Alexa is loving motherhood and spending time with her two year old son Jarryd. “He is such a busy little guy! He gets dragged along everywhere we go and has become a very sociable little fellow, one of the darlings of the paddling community!”
Alexa is married to Peter Cole, another world class paddler from the Scenic South Peninsula, with whom she became friends through Lifesaving. No longer paddling competitively, Peter still very much on the canoeing scene, training Alexa and others. He has set up a formal training programme under the name Orka Brand and has nine paddlers who have made the team to Rome training with him. He holds training sessions every evening at the Peninsula Canoe Club at Zandvlei.
In 2005 Alexa achieved all three goals she had set herself: reaching the top 20 in the Berg River Canoe Marathon, in which she has won the women’s K1 title four times; taking the SA flat water marathon title and winning a medal (silver) at the World Marathon Championships. She is still the only woman to have reached the top 20 in the Berg.
“After 2005 I tried to go into sprints but flopped. I hated them. When you don’t enjoy doing something it does not seem to go well. Sprinters also have to spend at least three months a year racing on the International circuit. It is a huge sacrifice. After two weeks overseas I am chaffing to come home!
I then took a year off from paddling and had fun surfing. My focus was all wrong. I was no longer paddling for the achievement and personal fulfilment but for the money and sponsorship, which is not what I am about. I had also been paddling competitively for too many years. It was good to have the time out.”
During her year off, Alexa started making paddles in her garage, which developed into a full-time business. Orca Paddles now has its own factory with two employees, Alexa rolling up her sleeves to do the physical work along with them. Her business has boomed with orders coming in from all over the world, including Australia, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Spain.
With the opportunity to take part in the World Flat Water Marathon Championships in Singapore last year, Alexa was slowly drawn back into competitive paddling. “I love the flat water K1 marathon best of all. This 30km race is a true race, an honest race, not determined by weather and river conditions. I only had six weeks to get it all together, to get fit and make the grade. I gave it 110%.” Having achieved 5th place in Singapore, she was asked by an Italian surfski manufacturer to paddle the Dragon Run race in Hong Kong in one of their surfskis, an event she won. Back home, the Cape Point Challenge was taking place a mere three weeks later, a gruelling ocean water race from Scarborough to Fish Hoek. Being fit she decided to take part, winning the women’s race by 10 minutes.
In January Alexa committed to aiming for the World Canoe Marathon Championships in Rome. Her winning the South African K1 and K2 titles this year has qualified her for the race which takes place on the Tiber River between the 15 and 26 September. And after Rome? “Another re-think. The commitment is massive – it is emotional and stressful. The top canoeists are very competitive. I would like to expand my business. I have ideas for it but will also go with the flow,” she says.
In her spare time Alexa enjoys spending time on the beach with Jarryd, having time with friends and family and in summer being out on the sea at Scarborough crayfishing.
The motto of this young champion? “Never sit back waiting for something. If you want something, make it happen.”
We wish Alexa and the rest of the South African canoeing team a successful and enjoyable trip to Rome.
Other paddlers from our local Peninsula Canoe Club included in the South African team partaking in World Canoe Marathon Championships in Rome are Simon van Gysen, Jasper Mocke, Michele Eray, Eloise van Gysen, Kenneth Rice, Craig Flanagan, Dominic Notten, Kirsten Flanagan, Amy Hare, Rob Maclean, Shaun Butler, Ian Glass and Edgar Boehm (jnr) (http://cms.wpcanoe.org.za/content/view/899/2/)
For details about the Peninsula Canoe Club see http://scenicsouth.co.za//civic-community/sports-clubs/