Malibongwe Ketelo (31) rose from the threshold of drug addiction to become a qualified trainer at Virgin Active.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
When you meet Malibongwe at Virgin Active, in Houghton, all you see is a young man who is passionate about his job. He is a man of a few words but when talking about fitness sometimes he misses a breath.
Yet, despite his well sculptured physique, which attracts hundreds of likes on Instagram, and a swarm of clients seeking his training services, Malibongwe reveals that fitness saved his life from drugs.
“I used to be addicted tick, mandrax and alcohol,” he shares.
“I lost my father at a young age. My father and I were never that close but it really troubled me. I knew who he was but he was never involved in my life. I tried to find other ways to understand why my father was not interested in me like the other fathers were to their kids. I needed something to fill the whole and that’s when the drugs took over. My older brother was also killed in a gang and drugs helped me numb the pain.”
The trainer, who was raised in Cape Town (Khayelitsha), recalls trying drugs in 2001 when a friend brought them to a school event. He decided to try but little did he know that he would enter a dark world that a few survive.
“At first it was fun but before I knew it I couldn’t live without drugs. They became the first thing I craved when I woke up in the morning,” he says.
“You then start doing whatever you can to support your habit, like stealing money from family members and robbing people. I knew I was in trouble when I started doing all those things that I would never do when I am not under the influence of drugs. “
“I lost a friend I was smoking with to an overdose and that was a wake- up call for me. We always used to say “We gonna ride till we die” but after he died, I knew I didn’t want to die the way that he died.”
His family grew concerned about his habits and booked Malibongwe into a rehabilitation centre. He shares that they begged him and he obliged but within no time he was back to his old ways. It was not until a terrifying life event occurred that he made a decision to turn his life around.
“I lost a friend I was smoking with to an overdose and that was a wake- up call for me. We always used to say “We gonna ride till we die” but after he died, I knew I didn’t want to die the way that he died.
My family had given up on me then and I had to beg to be committed. My dad’s sister was working at Pollsmoor as a correctional officer at the time, and she knew the government rehab centres and that’s how I was able to get help,” he explains.
Now clean, Malibongwe decided to move from Cape Town to Johannesburg to start afresh. But with only grade 11 as a qualification he had to start from the bottom. He scored a job as a cleaner at Virgin Active after his cousin took him to the “bring someone for the first time to the gym” promotion. He introduced him to the lady in charge of cleaning department and he got a week trial and then was hired as a temp-cleaner.
“I was at peace with the job because I was earning an honest living, even though some people look down on the profession. I was finally doing something for myself, I was not robbing anyone and I was not being chased by cops all the time,” he explains.
Two years into the cleaning job Malibongwe began to dream bigger. He started training hard and also shadowed the maintenance guys in hopes of moving to the department.
“When you are uneducated there is a voice that tells you that you can’t have more. I knew that the only way I could have more was by working harder.
I put on extra hours to train and I watched the maintenance guys to get more knowledge. The first time I applied to be a handy man I didn’t get it and I took it hard because I thought ‘I am doing the right things now and everything should work out fine’. I had to keep my head up and reapply again. By the time I got to the handy man job I was doing weights twice a day, morning and afternoon.”
Still not satisfied, Malibongwe now wanted to be a personal trainer and also go back to school. He saved money and enquired about colleges that could accept him studying and paying while working. He didn’t have much luck but his manager who saw his drive offered him a scholarship through Eta to study sports science.
“That was a great experience because I was able to get in-depth knowledge about the profession,” he adds.
“Everyone thinks they can just do it but you need to know the techniques and the theory behind everything. To get that National Certificate in Fitness and level 1 in coaching was quite an achievement because I love this and now I am qualified in it.”
“It’s been a journey but now I have big dreams.”
Malibongwe then resigned from Virgin Active and started his own practise as a personal trainer but decided to stay under them and use their facilities at a fee. Now two years and eight months later he is a successful personal trainer. He reveals that he is still “not where he wants be, but not where he used to be”.
“It’s been a journey but now I have big dreams,” he adds.
“We all start somewhere and I see myself having my own gym company. I can change young people’s lives using fitness, like it changed mine – if I could change one young kid from the township that would be quite an achievement.”
Email: malibongwe. firstname.lastname@example.org