Cancer survivor, Lawrence Brittain, going for gold at Kowie River Varsities Boat Race

FIGHTING FIT: Lawrence Brittain in training for his favourite race Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
FIGHTING FIT: Lawrence Brittain in training for his favourite race

A champion South African rower who overcame cancer to win a silver medal at the recent Rio Olympics has set his sights on winning gold at the Varsities Boat Race in Port Alfred this weekend.

Lawrence Brittain, who missed out on Olympics gold by less than three seconds, has set his sights on winning a record eighth straight regatta title when he takes to the water with the University of Pretoria team.

The defending champions are hoping that Brittain and the other two Olympians in their eight person boat, Jake Green and David Hunt, will help them scoop gold again at the race on the Kowie River.

Brittain, who was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma two weeks after the 2014 Varsities Boat Race in Port Alfred, said yesterday he thought his Olympics dream was over after he found out he had cancer.

“There were many times during my chemotherapy that I thought I would never row again,” he said.

According to Brittain, the physical strength he had gained from years of rowing and the positive attitude had helped him beat cancer.

Although giving up all rowing for five months during his treatment was difficult, Brittain’s recovery was so quick, he was back on the water in time to help Tuks win gold again at last year’s Varsities Boat Race.

“It is the best race of the South African season and there was no way I was going to miss it.”

From humble beginnings in 1980, when the University of Cape Town challenged Wits University to a rowing race, the annual Varsities Boat Race has grown into a huge event that now attracts men and women from eight South African universities.

Besides attracting hundreds of rowers, coaches and team officials, the annual event also pulls thousands of spectators.

Sunshine Coast Tourism head Sandy Birch said yesterday the annual event was a huge money-spinner for the resort town during the lean months before Christmas.

She said a party village and camping facility for 700 people on the banks of the Kowie River had been fully booked along with 1 300 beds at accommodation establishments in the town.

“Students come here from all over the country, have an amazing time and then return for holidays. Some even buy houses here,” Birch said.

“It exposes the Eastern Cape to people who wouldn’t normally come here.”

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