Melinda Bam

TV STAR. TOMBOY. TO­TAL BABE.

Women's Health (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE -

TOMBOYS AND TIARAS

A lot has changed for Melinda in five years. For starters, she mar­ried for­mer Mr South Africa Adri­aan Bergh, whom she could only of­fi­cially start dat­ing af­ter hand­ing over the Miss SA crown (Miss SA is not al­lowed to have ro­man­tic at­tach­ments dur­ing her reign). She made the top 10 in the Miss Uni­verse pageant and be­came na­tional ex­ec­u­tive for the Miss SA Pageant, where she was able to coach a new gen­er­a­tion of as­pir­ing young women. She started two busi­nesses – a swimwear la­bel for all body shapes that pro­duced two col­lec­tions and Wo­men­tal­ity, a se­ries of em­pow­er­ing work­shops for women. She also launched a suc­cess­ful TV ca­reer, be­com­ing a pre­sen­ter on Pasella and, more re­cently, her Via re­al­ity show Wie’s Jou Pop­pie? (WJP), where each episode fea­tures Melinda and a guest fe­male celeb do­ing some­thing chal­leng­ing and ad­ven­tur­ous. “I want to show that we can also have the grit to do ad­ven­tur­ous things, push our­selves, work hard and sweat... And then still wear heels,” says Melinda, who de­scribes women em­pow­er­ment as be­ing the essence of ev­ery­thing she’s done – yes, in­clud­ing pageants, which she used as a spring­board to fu­ture suc­cess. “I al­ways thought, grow­ing up, that be­ing a wo­man was kind of be­ing sec­ond best,” she ad­mits. “So I tried to fit in and change my­self – I wanted to be ‘one of the boys’ and be­came a tomboy in or­der to be taken se­ri­ously.” But it both­ered her that she wasn’t be­ing true to her­self. “I re­alised that, as we’re con­stantly fight­ing to fit into a man’s world, we’re dis­miss­ing the fact that it’s also sup­posed to be a wo­man’s world. Women should never sac­ri­fice their wom­an­hood, their fem­i­nin­ity, be­cause that’s where we draw our strength from. We can be soft and gen­tle, but we can still be strong. And per­ceiv­ing life as beau­ti­ful, be­ing op­ti­mistic, not be­ing pes­simistic or hard­ened... Those are strengths.”

CHAL­LENGE IS GOOD

Melinda was ini­tially ap­proached to be a guest on the show that would ul­ti­mately be­come WJP. But, in true Melinda style, she spot­ted an op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing bet­ter. “I said, it’s one thing to try to make women do all sorts of silly things; it’s a whole dif­fer­ent thing to try to put a pur­pose be­hind it.” The show, which started film­ing its sec­ond sea­son in Jan­uary, is gen­uinely tough. The first sea­son saw Melinda and her guests tak­ing on chal­lenges like sky­div­ing, shoot­ing, sort­ing re­cy­cling and felling trees. “The episode where we worked at a pig farm was my favourite, just be­cause I feel like I con­quered a fear of my own,” says Melinda. “I’ve got a fear of nee­dles and I had to in­ject piglets and it was just a hor­rid and gross ex­pe­ri­ence and I cried. But I think it’s good some­times for peo­ple to see that un­ex­pected side of you, the side where you’re not re­hearsed and you can just be your­self and be can­did and show real emo­tion and em­bar­rass your­self. The world some­times needs to see that you’re also just hu­man.” Be­ing chal­lenged on the show taught Melinda that she’s more ca­pa­ble and ad­ven­tur­ous than she’d pre­vi­ously thought. It’s a les­son that she be­lieves

The crew ex­changes an un­cer­tain glance. “Uh, yes... That okay?” “Yes! Yes! Very okay!” Melinda rubs her hands to­gether, bounc­ing with ex­cite­ment. It’s been five years since the for­mer Miss SA rocked a striped bikini on the cover of WH. The wo­man on that cover was slim, pe­tite and gor­geous – the quin­tes­sen­tial beauty queen. The Melinda we’re shoot­ing to­day is all of those things, but with a mas­sive dose of strength and ca­pa­bil­ity thrown in. Look­ing at her vis­i­ble mus­cle tone and the en­ergy with which the 28-year-old bounds around set, you can be­lieve she’ll han­dle those bat­tle ropes and any other chal­lenge we might throw her way. And if there’s any lin­ger­ing doubt, when she hops onto a set of par­al­lel bars be­tween shots and starts bang­ing out tri­ceps dips with per­fect form, it’s quickly dis­pelled.

all women should learn. “Ad­ven­tures keep things in­ter­est­ing. It makes time al­most stand still some­times,” she says. “As soon as you do things that put you in a rut and a rou­tine, life just goes by in one big blur. Do­ing things out of the or­di­nary is what makes life have its bright and stand-out mo­ments.”

BUILT ON GRIT

What hasn’t changed at all is Melinda’s dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion. The day of our cover shoot, she’s pre­par­ing to jet off to the Mal­dives to film the eighth sea­son of Tropika Is­land of Trea­sure (air­ing now on SABC 3, Mon­days at 19:30). The re­al­ity show sees celebs team­ing up with mem­bers of the pub­lic to com­pete in a se­ries of phys­i­cal elim­i­na­tion chal­lenges with a R1-mil­lion cash prize up for grabs. And that brings us back to that killer bod. Melinda spent three gru­elling months get­ting into com­pet­i­tive shape for the show. And while she’s no stranger to ex­er­cise – she’s a keen run­ner and cy­clist and com­pleted the Sun City To The Table Bay Cy­cle Tour with Adri­aan in 2012 – the train­ing meant push­ing her body in ways she never had be­fore. “Look­ing back at Miss SA, I don’t know how I man­aged to be so tiny,” she says. “I weighed five ki­los lighter than I weigh now, but I felt strong and healthy. Now I feel like I’m ac­tu­ally func­tion­ally fit – I can pick things up and I can run and squat and throw things and climb things and I can carry my body weight.” It wasn’t easy to get to this point. Melinda trains six days a week, with spe­cial fo­cus on ar­eas she knows are her weak­nesses. “For ex­am­ple, swim­ming. I’ve never done a com­pet­i­tive lap in my life, so I re­alised, okay, I need to spend a lit­tle bit of time in the pool and just feel like I’ve pre­pared my­self.” That “lit­tle time in the pool” has since turned into two-hour ses­sions with a swim­ming coach, which in­cludes a mix of drills, sprints and en­durance. “I’m at the point now where my favourite part is res­pi­ra­tory drills – so you do a sprint lap and then a lap un­der­wa­ter and re­peat.” She also en­listed the help of a trainer for strength work. “Over­all en­durance and fit­ness have al­ways been some­thing that I en­joyed, so that part I did on my own. But strength train­ing... I was com­pletely clue­less. I thought heavy weights were a girl’s arch-en­emy, but it ended up be­ing my best friend.” Her ses­sions in­clude not only heavy weights, but func­tional move­ments as well – like tyre flips, rope climbs, medicine ball track sprints, mon­key bars and hang­ing one-handed from a bar to build grip strength. One en­durance ex­er­cise in­volves nine con­tin­u­ous min­utes of 12-kilo ket­tle­bell swings. Sjoe. The re­sults are ev­i­dent: Melinda is not just fit, she’s pack­ing se­ri­ous, nomess­ing-around mus­cle. “When I was Miss SA, my train­ing was very dif­fer­ent. I fo­cused on be­ing slen­der and lean and all of that, but be­ing stronger has been a lot more fun. My arms are not just two sticks hang­ing on the sides of my body any­more – they can ac­tu­ally do some­thing; they’re use­ful.” That said, Melinda ad­mits that, aes­thet­i­cally, her stronger physique is “a tad more on the mus­cu­lar side” than she’d pre­fer. “But I know it’s go­ing to serve me well on Tropika,” she says. “It’s not just about the train­ing and the aes­thetic part of it, it’s about be­ing able to push your mind where your body hasn’t gone yet. Do­ing weird things that kind of scare you – like when you hear you need to climb up a rope! – it’s great. It’s nice be­ing able to do stuff that sur­prises you.”

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