BET­TER MAN

Caleb Mu­tombo is break­ing down the big­gest bound­aries with body­build­ing

Men's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY KIERAN LEGG

Caleb Mu­tombo is break­ing down the big­gest bound­aries with body­build­ing + how to turn your fur­ni­ture into mas­sive mus­cle ( 26), real es­tate ad­vice ( 28), the best blenders right now ( 30), how to de­tail your digs ( 34).

How are you go­ing to do it? It was one of the first of many ques­tions Caleb Mu­tombo was asked when he told his friends and fam­ily he was go­ing to be a body­builder. Stand­ing at just over a me­tre tall, his limbs stunted and ham­strung by sickle-cell anaemia as an in­fant, the teenager didn’t have an an­swer. But he knew one im­por­tant thing: he wanted to be strong like his idols, to live proudly in the body that he has.

Mak­ing Ends Meet

Caleb was born in the DRC against a back­drop of po­lit­i­cal up­heaval and vi­o­lence. His par­ents, strug­gling to make ends meet as they scav­enged for work in a coun­try clamped in the vice grip of a civil war, were thrown an­other curve­ball: two of their sons needed ur­gent med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

“I re­mem­ber, they scraped to­gether what money they could,” says Caleb. “And then they came to South Africa.”

Caleb was just two years old, un­aware of the mas­sive wa­ger his fam­ily had taken, bet­ting their fu­ture on for­eign land. When they ar­rived in South Africa, doc­tors dis­cov­ered that the tod­dler and his brother Kalala needed an ur­gent blood trans­fu­sion. Caleb’s older sis­ter Jemima was identified as the per­fect donor for her sib­ling, cur­ing him of the sickle-cell anaemia and ul­ti­mately sav­ing his life. But Kalala wasn’t as for­tu­nate; they couldn’t find a match. Sur­geons then op­er­ated on Caleb’s maimed limbs, at­tempt­ing to re­store nor­mal func­tion. His brother also went un­der the knife.

Un­for­tu­nately the dam­age had been done. Caleb stopped grow­ing at a young age. His right leg is longer than his left, and his left arm longer, more flex­i­ble and more mo­bile than his right. He needs crutches to move about.

“Peo­ple teased me,” he says. “But only some of them – the kids, you know. Most peo­ple were nice, and I make friends eas­ily.”

For a while his fam­ily moved across the coun­try. First from Cape Town to Joburg, then to Pretoria; and then, they were scat­tered across the con­ti­nent.

“They couldn’t make ends meet here, my par­ents,” ex­plains Caleb. “So they went back to the Congo, and would send us money when­ever they could.”

Caleb and his sib­lings bounced be­tween

the homes of fam­ily that re­mained, sleep­ing in crowded lounges and scrab­bling to­gether what food they could. Even­tu­ally they were left in the care of his old­est sis­ter Betty, who af­ter tread­ing wa­ter fi­nan­cially for years, even­tu­ally ran out of energy and funds to look af­ter them.

That’s how Caleb and his brother found them­selves in Kid’s Haven, a home in Benoni – his sis­ter Jemima was taken in by foster par­ents.

But his past doesn’t faze the young body­builder. In fact, his up­beat tone and op­ti­mism never wa­vers. It is what it is, he says. “It’s all part of my pur­pose.”

He had his brother, af­ter all.

The Right Path

In mid­dle school, spin­ning tops gave way to a new trend: “work­ing out and get­ting ripped”.

Kids idolised the su­per­heroes on TV screens and Facebook pages. Their idols were brawny bar­bar­ians such as Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, and in­ter­net stars dom­i­nat­ing the weight room. Work­ing out was a way to im­press your mates, maybe even a way to land a girl­friend.

But Caleb saw some­thing dif­fer­ent. He had an epiphany: this new trend was an op­por­tu­nity to ex­cel in some­thing phys­i­cal, for the first time in his life. His con­di­tion meant he couldn’t com­pete in tra­di­tional sports, leav­ing him on the fringe as his school­mates would kick off a pick-up soc­cer match in the school­yard.

Even at a young age, the body­builder had no­ticed he had more mus­cle than most. While the dis­ease had stunted his growth, his limbs were strong and sinewy.

He lever­aged that un­ex­pected power and be­gan do­ing body­weight moves at the home.

“They said I was too young, and it wasn’t safe for me to go to the gym,” he says. “But I did what I could do by my­self.”

For years he worked out for three hours a day – ev­ery day – train­ing his en­tire body. He was ob­sessed. That com­mit­ment trans­lated into real progress, his mus­cles grow­ing quickly de­spite lim­ited ac­cess to pro­tein sources. When he later dis­cov­ered body­build­ing was a com­pet­i­tive sport, he told his friends that was his goal, his new dream.

“They’d joke with me and say, what, you want a thong up your butt?” he laughs. “I said hell yes – if it means I can stand up there and be an in­spi­ra­tion to oth­ers, I’m there.”

When he was 15, a group of vis­i­tors to the home found out about his as­pi­ra­tions. They headed up a char­ity drive to have a gym built at Kid’s Haven; and just a few months later, staff from the nearby Vir­gin Ac­tive ar­rived with a truck­load of new equip­ment to build an out­door gym.

“I was so ex­cited, I jumped straight out of bed and came run­ning out­side,” Caleb laughs.

He would meet friends along the way. One, a trainer, who would leave work to pick him up and teach him new moves, and school him on pro­tein-packed di­ets. He learnt how to use a Smith ma­chine to com­plete pre­vi­ously im­pos­si­ble moves, such as the bench press and squat. Now, Caleb – at just 37kg – is able to squat that same weight on his back, and bash out at least 50 push-ups in a ses­sion. But back then, it was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – he was un­lock­ing the full po­ten­tial of his body.

“But I knew I was on the right path.”

“The judges were cry­ing when I took to the stage, when I was flex­ing. I smile when I think about how many peo­ple I touched that day, how many peo­ple I hope I in­spired.”

Keep Fight­ing

When Caleb was 18, his brother passed away. Kalala had been strug­gling with menin­gi­tis, and died af­ter he was taken to hos­pi­tal. It’s a blur now for the young body­builder. He re­mem­bers talk­ing to Kalala on his last night, ask­ing him if he was okay, and then leav­ing to give him space to re­cover. “It just hap­pened so sud­denly.” His par­ents came; he hadn’t seen them for years. It was a brief and sad re­union. For Caleb, weightlift­ing be­came a way to es­cape some of the harsh re­al­i­ties of his life, to leave be­hind the un­chang­ing, and of­ten lonely en­vi­ron­ment .

And with body­build­ing, he could turn his at­ten­tion to re­al­is­ing his dream, and fi­nally tak­ing his ef­forts to the stage.

Last year he took part in his first com­pe­ti­tion. He was knocked out in the first round. But the place­ment didn’t mat­ter.

“The judges were cry­ing when I took to the stage, when I was flex­ing,” he says. “I smile when I think about how many peo­ple I touched that day, how many peo­ple I hope I in­spired.”

He was hooked. He met trainer Ryan Man­the, the owner of the Trinergy gym, at the event. The coach taught him how to pose like a body­builder. He helped him se­cure spon­sor­ships, and hooked him up with proper kit. That en­abled him to com­pete more of­ten. And the next time he took to the stage? He did a lit­tle bet­ter. “I want to com­pete more of­ten. I want to travel the world and com­pete, to in­spire peo­ple and show them that ev­ery­one has a pur­pose in this world.”

Caleb wants to do more. He wants to try box­ing, he wants to be a fighter – he wants to go be­yond the aes­thet­ics and em­body what it means to be func­tion­ally strong. “We all have hard­ships, even the wealth­i­est of peo­ple. And what­ever those hard­ships may be, we cannot al­low them to hold us back. We must have a goal, a vi­sion, and see the prize of reach­ing that goal,” says Caleb.

*Visit kid­shaven.org.za to sup­port Caleb and his home.

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