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14 April 2018 | in NUSF News, FISU World University Championships, Rowing

Namibian rower Diekmann sculling her way through the heart of Africa

Namibian rower Maike Diekmann is using her love and talent for her sport for a far greater cause, as she and 17 fellow rowers prepare for a never-before attempted 900km rowing expedition along the Kafue River in the heart of Africa.



Maike Diekmann, a recent Geology Honours graduate from Rhodes University in South Africa, will be embarking on a trip of a lifetime in July, as a group of 18 rowers from six different countries prepare for a 14-day sculling exploration down the wild Kafue River, the third largest tributary of the Zambezi River in Zambia.


Introduced to the RowZambezi expedition leader Tim Cook via a university friend, Diekmann, who hold various rowing titles at both university and national level, was immediately hooked, not only by the tough challenge it presents, but by the greater issue the expedition is attempting to highlight. The purpose of the gruelling rowing mission is to raise awareness of the critical issues surrounding the Zambezi River Basin and its tributary, the Kafue River, on which the expedition is taking place. The river, which supplies 40% of Zambia’s drinking water and generates 50% of the county’s hydroelectric power, is under serious threat due to climate change, with the RowZambezi campaign looking to highlight the issue, while also raising money to aid WWF and other water-based charities, with plans in place to build a water research and rowing centre along the river.


Training for such an arduous test is no easy feat however, with Diekmann spending seven days a week, sometimes three times a day, either on the water, in the gym or running on the road. But being part of something so incredibly special and unique has the talented Namibian extremely excited. “It is something special and not everyone gets the chance to experience this,” she says. “I am very excited to see where the journey will take me and what friendships I will still form along this journey.”


Diekmann doesn’t mind the long hours though, as she is targeting an even greater goal – the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The 23-year-old’s obvious rowing talent at university level earned her the prestigious and much sought-after Olympic Solidarity Scholarship, a bursary handed down by the International Olympic Committee to athletes in developing countries, which will aid her in getting to a number of international regattas which will lead to her ultimate Olympic dream. “The preparations are in full swing, I have a coach on board here in Grahamstown where Rhodes University is situated, a physio and team manager to help me prepare for upcoming international regattas this year,” she reveals. “I will also be attending training camps in Pretoria and possible high altitude camos in Tzaneen, Limpopo in northern South Africa.”




The astounding aspect in the decorated rower’s tale is that she only began rowing “for fun” in her third year as a university student, having previously represented her country in line hockey. Yet the natural athlete has no regrets about being a late bloomer.


“I don’t have any regrets at all,” she says. “Yes, sometimes I think about how other good rowers have been rowing for a much longer time than I have, but that just makes me push myself harder in training and focus more on becoming a better rower every day. I would definitely be further in my rowing career if I started in school, but I have also seen how rowing from an early age has driven a lot of people away from the sport, as it’s a tough sport that demands a lot of time and energy from you. I personally don’t think I would still be srowing if I started in my early school days. Therefore I am very happy to have learned this sport at a later stage.”



With plans for her Masters Degree in Hydrology on hold for now, Diekmann has decided to give her rowing career a full go, which has been a big sacrifice in her life. But she cites her family’s support as her driving force.


“My whole family have been amazing and always encouraging towards my rowing goals,” she says. “Especially my mom, she has made a huge effort to understand the sport, as it was something so foreign to my family. She understands what rowing is about and all the little details that come with it, such as the different boat classes, the water times, my training and who else competes in my event at an international level.”


With rowing having become the main focus of her life in recent months, especially with the build-up to the RowZambezi expedition, Diekmann says she has learnt a lot through the sport. “The tight knit family environment that a rowing club creates is something so special that I haven’t seen in any other sport before,” she reveals. “You depend on one another, you are a team and you understand each other and how tough this sport can be. I feel like I am constantly developing and growing as a person, and rowing has taught me a lot about myself. I love competing, I hate losing - which is a hard thing to handle - I love adapting to new strategies and find what works for me in training. Most importantly I have learned that rowing comes with a lot of sacrifices.”


No doubt one of her biggest sacrifices will be the upcoming expedition, a sacrifice going beyond personal limits, but raising awareness for the greater good.


*RowZambezi is a sponsor-funded expedition, with organisers desperate for any able donors to help fund their trip. Any interested parties can visit their website.