THE HIGH FLYING ENTHUSIAST
Written by: Zama Ngcoya
When you visit the Pinetown Gymnastics Club for the first time as an audience member, you are left at a loss for words. When you stand and observe from a distance, it all seems so surreal. The speed at which he moves on the pommel horse plants seeds of doubt on the mind, almost as if you are being deceived by the eye.
However, when you walk closer to get a magnified view of the events, you actually realise that it is not a fictional character out of a Marvel movie, but rather, a 21-year-old gymnast mastering his craft on the pommel horse, a favourite amongst gymnasts. You comprehend that it is many years of thorough practice and dedication employed by Nkululeko Ndlovu that makes it seem all so easy.
Ndlovu, was born in 1994 on the 07th of December. He grew up in the crime marred, poverty stricken, and drug infested township of Clermont where he was raised by his grandparents in a household occupied by more than ten other family members, following the separation of his parents.
Growing up, Ndlovu’s character could be summed up in a single word- introvert. He spent much of his time indoors playing board games, or going to church gatherings with his grandmother.
At the age of nine years, he discovered a new love when a man by the name of Allen who lived in the same neighbourhood as Ndlovu, introduced him to gymnastics, a sport which would one day see him travelling to places far and beyond, showcasing his talents.
At first, the idea of exercises on uneven bars, acrobatic feats-leaps, handstands, pommel horse and more, did not entice him. However, his family feared that he would conform to the norms of the males in his neighbourhood and turn to theft or drug trafficking when he was much older, so they encouraged him to give gymnastics a try, with his grandmother willing to foot the bill.
Regardless of being reluctant to do gymnastics in the beginning, Ndlovu was hooked the very first day that he went to gym. He was drawn by the friendly faces with whom he trained, the pommel horse which he would later master, and the endless possibilities and platforms for success as a gymnast.
In the years that he has been practicing this sport, he has travelled to many places.
“Through gymnastics, I have been afforded the opportunity to travel to different places in South Africa. I have been to places such as Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria where I got to compete in various championships and bring home medals,” said a proud Ndlovu as he reminisces on his travels.
In addition to the places he has gone to, he has also visited Namibia. Ndlovu says he was very pleased to meet Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe when he visited the country to compete at one of the gymnastics games hosted there.
Although travelling for him had somewhat become a norm, his greatest moment came when he got to visit the United States of America in 2013.
“I went with my team overseas for the first time and I was over the moon. My experience there was great. It was a training camp and we had all the other coaches from various countries helping us, and training us with all the apparatus’ and other skills which we wanted to accomplish,” Ndlovu explained.
Ndlovu’s coach and colleague Jesse Kitzen-Abelson described him as a hard worker.
“Nkululeko is a phenomenal athlete. He has really changed and matured over the past year and a half compared to what he was like in his early teenage years. He wants to do the right thing all the time. He has big dreams and goals for himself which adds fuel to the fire, and that drives him to train hard,” said Abelson.
After years of perfecting his craft and showing much dedication in his team, Ndlovu was awarded the position of being one of the coaches at Pinetown Gymnastics Club, where he gets to share his experiences and expertise with other young gymnasts. He is also currently on the Senior Olympic level.
Speaking to Journalismiziko, all the way from the United States of America where he is due to spend three weeks at a training camp, Ndlovu reflected on the progress South Africa has made since the apartheid regime.
“I have had many people giving me the surprised look when I tell them I am a gymnast. I remember one day someone asked me if I had ever been subjected to racism as I was doing the “white man’s sport”. It saddened me that in this day and age some people actually still think like that,” said Ndlovu.
“We have come a long way since the apartheid times. Days like June 16th are observed to remember all the fallen heroes who fought for the opportunities available today so we must make the most of it. Opportunities are available for people of all colour. If a young person like me can do it, so can you. You just need to realise your talents, make use of all platforms given to you, and follow your dreams,” an optimistic Ndlovu concluded.
*Caption: Ndlovu on the pommel horse