UFH - Rowing - Lisakhanya Mqalo (FSC)

Standout Fort Hare rower Lisakhanya Mqalo had never dipped an oar in anger before his arrival at the Eastern Cape university.

While he played rugby, cricket and hockey at school in Fort Beaufort, the 21-year-old wanted to try something different during his first year of studies in 2022.

As so often happens, someone he knew introduced him to another student involved in the sport and so his love of competitive rowing began.

At the Universities Boat Race in Port Alfred last year, he was part of the crew who defeated the fancied Rhodes in the D-final to secure seventh overall – a jump of three spots from the previous year.

At the time, Fort Hare coach Lunga Mcetywa attributed their rise up the rankings to a culture of continuity that had come to define the club. Mqalo, now in his third year of an LLB in law, has been a big cog in that wheel.

Aside from missing the University Sports South Africa Sprints in his first year, he has represented UFH at every other USSA event.

“Coach Lunga has been a great mentor. All the great techniques he has taught me have really helped my rowing,” he said.

Mqalo made no secret of his passion for the Quad class, which he described as rowing’s “elite” category.

UFH - Rowing - Lisakhanya Mqalo (FSC)

Lisakhanya Mqalo has grown in stature to become a much-respected leader at Fort Hare’s rowing club. Photo: Full Stop Communications

For him, there is something special about four men working in unison to achieve the high speeds a lighter boat offers.

Given that he is now something of a club veteran, it comes as no surprise that he has taken up the key role of stroke, who is the pacesetter for the rest of the crew.

“Throughout the years I was lieutenant stroke, so it’s a big move for me this year. It’s an interesting position that has me on full attention, but I’m feeling good about it.”

He was extremely proud that Fort Hare always managed to compete at a high level despite the code not being blessed with the budget of some others.

The universities of Cape Town and Pretoria traditionally dominate the national circuit but Mqalo said their goal was “trying to get there”.

He explained that the major reason why the Alice rowers were playing catch-up was the difference in experience between them.

“Many of us had never rowed before coming to Fort Hare while they started before university.”

The club’s next major assignment is the USSA Boat Race in September and while that may still be two months away, there has been no drop-off in the intensity of their training.

Their sessions of late had been “quite a remarkable experience,” Mqalo said in a tone as wry as it was diplomatic.

“Our coach makes sure we give that extra 10 per cent on the water. We always have to make sure that we are at our best.”

One of Mqalo’s greatest qualities as an athlete is that he works as hard off the water as he does on it.

Aside from the rigorous training sessions on East London’s Buffalo River, he regularly hits the road for 10km runs and the gym as often as he can.

“Even by myself, I always make sure I perform so I can ensure my physique is 100 per cent [for regattas].”

He urged his peers at Fort Hare to try out for the club as it offered many great experiences.

While, at first, they may “regret” their decision because of the heavy training regimen, they definitely will not do so downstream.

“They will love it,” he said.