All Hail The Queen

Women's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY GOTL­HOK­WANG AN­GOMA-MZINI PHOTOGRAPHS BY SEAN LAURÉNZ

How Ma­pule Ndhlovu main­tains the en­ergy of an En­er­gizer Bunny

Curtsy lunge for the queen of fit­ness. She reigns over SA’s gym scene with her high­en­ergy work­outs, she’s got charisma that can’t be beaten and she’s in­spo on all lev­els – body, mind and spirit

Def­i­ni­tion of fit­ness

It was that en­ergy that won Maps our in­au­gu­ral Women’s Health Next Fit­ness Star ti­tle in 2016. Her un­matched cre­ativ­ity, fear­less­ness and pos­i­tive vibe set her apart for the judges. And turned her into the star the SA fit­ness scene had been wait­ing for. Over the past two years, Ma­pule has gone from a gym PT with a cou­ple hun­dred fol­low­ers to an In­sta sen­sa­tion and fit­ness celebrity. Peo­ple can’t get enough of her next-level com­pound work­outs, in­clud­ing grav­i­ty­de­fy­ing burpees and su­per­hu­man feats of bal­ance and strength. And she’s joined the one-name club. Like Bey­oncé or Adele in the mu­sic in­dus­try, men­tion Ma­pule in fit­ness and health cir­cles and there’s no sur­name re­quired. And that’s just how she likes it. “I want to be at a point where I epit­o­mise South African health and fit­ness. When they think of South African fit­ness, peo­ple must be like ‘Queen Fit­nass!’ first, then the list can con­tinue.” (@queen­fit­nass is her In­sta alias on the ’gram, but duh – you al­ready knew that.) But it’s not just the prospect of fame that drives the adi­das and Shield am­bas­sador. “I want to mo­ti­vate ev­ery­one,” she says. “When you see me, you must in­stantly see some­body who eats healthily, ex­er­cises and takes care of them­selves. I love it when peo­ple come to me and say, ‘Maps, I’ve started ex­er­cis­ing be­cause of you.’ That’s the big­gest com­pli­ment you can give me be­cause I know you have started do­ing some­thing pos­i­tive in your life.” Un­like many fit­ness train­ers who find their niche and stick with it, Ma­pule’s ap­proach is holis­tic. “Whether I’m around body­builders, run­ners, triath­letes, CrossFit­ters or yo­gis, I must blend in. I must be the def­i­ni­tion of fit­ness,” she says. That in­fec­tious en­ergy, heart-on-sleeve love of all things ac­tive and the gym­stu­dio dance moves you see on In­sta ev­ery #Friyay may have you pic­tur­ing the start of Ma­pule’s love af­fair with ex­er­cise as a meet-cute. But it wasn’t. She ac­tu­ally used ex­er­cise to numb a dark time in her life. That’s how it all re­ally started.

Built on strength

Ma­pule’s early life was tu­mul­tuous. Born to a mother who had been adopted, Maps and her mom found them­selves with­out a home when her grand­par­ents – her mom’s adop­tive par­ents – passed away. “When Mom used to say it’s time to move, we moved. I’ve slept in cars, un­der bridges and in the rain,” she says. It was al­ways a strug­gle to find a de­cent meal and a bed. When they fi­nally did put down roots, their sit­u­a­tion be­came a dif­fer­ent kind of bad. “I grew up in a house­hold where there was an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship and I would see my mom get­ting beaten up. I didn’t grow up with my dad.” Things went from bad to worse when her mom grew sick and Ma­pule had to be the adult. “I had to grow up at a very young age. I lived think­ing that my mom could die to­mor­row. And she would tell me ev­ery­day, ‘you need to get your­self to­gether be­cause if I die, no­body else will want to live with you.’ This forced me to be dis­ci­plined and not be the child.” So much so that when, at 13, Ma­pule found out she’d con­tracted TB through house­hold sec­ond-de­gree smok­ing, she had to take her­self to the clinic. “I was al­most close to de­pres­sion grow­ing up and no­body could pick it up”. It would have been easy for Maps to turn to vices, like al­co­hol, to re­lease the pain, but in­stead, she flat-out re­jected those things. “I still don’t like al­co­hol be­cause of the be­hav­iour peo­ple show af­ter. Some peo­ple think I don’t drink be­cause I ex­er­cise, but it’s also be­cause I like to be in con­trol.”

MA­PULE NDHLOVU STANDS IN FRONT OF ME WEAR­ING HER SIG­NA­TURE LY­CRA AND SNEAK­ERS AND SAYS, “I’M NOT READY.” I’M CON­FUSED. “I’M NOT READY FOR THE COVER. I’M EX­CITED. AND I’VE AL­WAYS WANTED THIS. I’VE DREAMT ABOUT THIS. BUT I DON’T THINK I’M READY,” SHE SAYS, SHIFT­ING FROM SIDE TO SIDE, GRIN­NING. WE’RE AT THE GYM, OF COURSE – THE EX­CLU­SIVE VIRGIN AC­TIVE COL­LEC­TION ALICE LANE CLUB THAT SERVES AS MA­PULE’S FAT-FIGHT­ING OF­FICE – AND HER AL­LEGED TREP­I­DA­TION DOESN’T FIT. SHE'S BE­COME ONE OF SA’S MOST FA­MOUS FITFLUENCERS AND, AT JUST 28, SHE’S TICK­ING ALL THE BOXES OF A CELEBRITY PER­SONAL TRAINER: IM­PRES­SIVE CLIENT LIST, OVER 95K IN­STA FOL­LOW­ERS AND COUNT­ING, THE BODY-FAT PER­CENT­AGE OF A PRO ATH­LETE, KILLER ABS AND EN­VI­ABLE CURVES. NOT READY? MAPS WAS BORN READY. SHE’S AN UN­RE­LENT­ING, VI­BRANT BALL OF EN­ERGY. FROM THE WAY SHE WALKS TO THE WAY SHE JUMP SQUATS.

Liv­ing in a town­ship with not much ac­cess to gyms, Ma­pule stum­bled upon an ex­er­cise class near her home in Alex. She found it to be a healthy, man­age­able way to cope with her trou­bled life. Ex­er­cise helped her clear her head, helped re­lease bot­tled-up emo­tions and im­proved her self-es­teem. “Ex­er­cise gives you a pos­i­tive state of mind. It makes you be­lieve ‘you got this’ be­cause your mind is in the right space. And the body al­ways fol­lows what the mind is telling it.” It was th­ese pos­i­tive vibes – and a schol­ar­ship to study ex­er­cise science – that prompted Maps to jump down the fit­ness rab­bit hole. Now she uses her love of fit­ness to mo­ti­vate other women to strive to be their health­i­est selves, men­tally and phys­i­cally.

Be­yond the body

“Ever since I was young I’ve al­ways had peo­ple say, ‘you have a nice body’,” says Ma­pule. “To me, it was not a com­pli­ment be­cause I had my own per­sonal is­sues. I used to feel that’s all that I am: a nice body.” Some­thing that wor­ries Ma­pule is the trend to look at mod­els’ and celebs’ so­cial me­dia as a fit­ness and ideal-body com­pass and feel that they need to em­u­late their looks ex­actly. “We want to be like other peo­ple, like so­cial-me­dia peo­ple. And be­cause of this, many black South African women are in­tim­i­dated to work out be­cause they think the bodies they see out there are far-fetched. So some­times they’re like, ‘Ag, I’ll never get there’. But it’s not sup­posed to be you get­ting ‘there’. It’s about you get­ting to the next level of your life, the next level of your well-be­ing, your con­fi­dence and your beauty. And along the way we for­get that. It’s about be­ing the bet­ter ver­sion of your­self.” This is one of Maps’ mantras: “be a bet­ter ver­sion of your­self”. She be­lieves it’s not about con­form­ing to some uni­ver­sal stan­dard, but that your best ver­sion is unique to you. “If mus­cles aren’t for you – that’s fine. If skinny is not for you – it’s al­right. If thick thighs aren’t your thing, it’s re­ally okay.” Ma­pule ad­vo­cates the idea that awe­some comes in all shapes and sizes. And it’s im­por­tant to her that women slam the in­ter­nal judge­men­tal voices in­side their heads. And the ex­ter­nal ones too. “Men are of­ten guilty of in­flu­enc­ing women’s think­ing; mak­ing women for­get to put them­selves first and find the real rea­son they are ex­er­cis­ing. Women will of­ten de­cide to ex­er­cise just be­cause their guy said they are pick­ing up weight.” Maps would like to see the fit­ness scene fo­cus less on aes­thet­ics and more on achieve­ments – break­ing down gen­der stereo­types in the process. “I do all the things I do so that when I tap into a new space, even where there are a lot of men, they will un­der­stand my lan­guage be­fore I even speak. The lan­guage of fit­ness is uni­ver­sal.”

Ris­ing star

Maps’ tra­jec­tory from PT to house­hold name has been ce­mented by part­ner­ships with big brands like adi­das, Shield, Toy­ota, FIBO Global Fit­ness (the world’s big­gest trade show for fit­ness, well­ness and health) and Red Bull. And, of course, her loyal fol­low­ers. “I still feel I have a long way to go,” she says. “But it’s been easy be­cause I’m not try­ing to be some­body else. I chose not to take peo­ple’s ad­vice and post ba­sic ex­er­cises – like ev­ery­one at the time.” Her ap­proach is far more unique. But what is it that re­ally makes her stand out? Sim­ple. Show­ing her pearly whites. “I like smil­ing when ex­er­cis­ing. Even on shoots I smile. Even when it’s a tough one. And while in pain, I have the same thought: ‘Oh my gosh, is this me? Jump­ing, pulling up, twist­ing? I love what I do.”

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