When Vusumzi “Mango” Nkence first walked into a rundown township gym in Port Alfred four years ago, he looked just like a scrawny kid in a popular peanut butter advert on TV.
Now, through hours of hard work, he is built like a Greek god and a South African champion bodybuilder.
The recently crowned South African Natural BodyBuilding Association (SANBBA) champion may still only tip the scales at a lightweight 69.1kg – but it is all sculpted muscle.
With less than three weeks to the world championships in Belgium, the 24-year-old yesterday said he was struggling to come up with the money to get there.
“Whatever happens, I am going to be there,” the determined youngster said.
Admitting to feeling very happy when he was selected for the national team, Nkence said the cherry on the top was beating bodybuilders in all weight divisions to win a highly sought after accolade.
“The happiest moment was when I won the best poser title.”
With time until the competition fast disappearing, Nkence said half of the R23000 needed for a visa, return plane ticket, accommodation and food has come in through donations.
“My mom says whatever happens I am going to make the plane.”
Besides spending hours a day pumping iron on rickety equipment in the poorly lit and ventilated Powerhouse township gym, which is also used by a township boxing academy, Nkence keeps in shape teaching aerobics to fitness fanatics.
“Jobs are hard to come by here and it is very easy to sit around at home doing nothing,” he said.
Although a relative newcomer to the competitive side of the sport this year, Nkence has won five competitions in a row and says he is motivated by his results to do even better.
“Doing this is very empowering, it keeps me out of trouble and also helps inspire young people who see me as a role model.”
Although the gym has no treadmill, a single small mirror to pose in front of an antiquated equipment, Nkence says it is not about what you have but rather your attitude.
“You don’t need a lot to succeed besides a positive mindset.”
Nkence says natural body builders cannot use steroids and that definition comes from purely working out.
Without any sponsors to help him, eating right before competitions can work out expensive as he needs high-protein food.
Although he has his sights set on winning the world championships, a long-term dream is to open a properly equipped gym.
SANBBA secretary Brandon Jacobs, who is also an international judge, yesterday said Nkence was a special talent who was fast becoming a great ambassador for the sport.
“He has won every competition he has entered but still remains humble and friendly.
“I have been to the gym – and what him and fellow SA team member Ntsikelelo Xalabile have achieved … it really is amazing.” — firstname.lastname@example.org