My Story: How I’m using gym to change a community

Thando Sithole. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Thando Sithole. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Thando Sithole is a 29-year-old fitness enthusiast who, after falling into alcohol abuse, used sport to turn his life around.

Along with leaders Mongezi Kumalo and Kirwin Aploon, he now hosts gym classes at a community hall in Eersterivier, in Cape Town, where he lives.

Through this programme he hopes to inspire kids that they too can change their lives by changing their lifestyle.

This is his story:

“I will never forget the day I received a message from a woman named Chamonay Anthony.

‘I need your help at the Multi-purpose Centre,’ the text read.

She explained she wanted me to train people in our community on a voluntary basis. I didn’t think twice.

My eagerness to make a difference stems from my own life story. I never had it easy.

My father was absent for most of my life and I was raised by a single mother. She did everything she could to ensure I had the best life possible but after her death I was lost.

I used the hardships life threw in my direction as an excuse to be rebellious.

I consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and became disrespectful towards friends and family. I even tried running away from home a few times.

However, I noticed every time I partook in sporting activities my mind was at ease. I had positive thoughts. I was more focused on the physical pain while exercising that I forgot about the emotional pain I was enduring.

A day after Chamonay’s message to me, our fitness classes started – and it’s been almost four years in the running.

My obsession with leading a healthy lifestyle made me agree to do it.

I’ve always enjoyed sport. As a scholar I played rugby, soccer, table tennis, cricket and did athletics.

The weird thing is that I loved the practice grounds more than the sports field. The hard work, preparation and motivation from the coaches often outweighs the adrenaline and anxiety of being on the field. That’s why i believe its important leaders make you feel you can do and be better every day.

I know I’m not the only one who has suffered from uncontrollable mental and emotional issues. That’s why I’ve implemented this initiative. Most kids in my community come from single-parent households. The fitness classes help them find a healthy escape from reality. 

We have so much talent in our community and I want to make these kids see there’s more to life than the negativity surrounding them.

I want them to know that even though they are surrounded by drug users, alcoholics and naysayers, they can still prosper and follow their dreams.

Classes are twice a week for an hour. At first only a handful attended. Parents would bring their kids and then eventually those kids would drag their friends along. We now have close to 100 kids attending each week.

The reaction has been incredibly positive. The self-love they’ve developed is awesome to see. They aren’t scared to face life’s challenges, they’ve set targets for themselves and have even added more physical activities to their lifestyle.

And they are now role models to other kids.

I’m not a qualified personal trainer yet (it’s something I’d like to achieve in due time) but I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and worked closely with other trainers.

That has given me a full understanding of how you can change your body through exercise and proper nutrition. But I’m still learning.

I see this becoming a successful recreational centre that develops young athletes.

I’ll forever be grateful to Fundile Nqologu, the recreation practitioner of the Multi-purpose Centre, for giving us the opportunity to do this initiative.”

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