'South Africa's Schwarzenegger' aims to lift poor with township gyms

Thu Mar 31, 2016 5:28am EDT
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By Joe Brock

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Striding around the gym he built in his grandmother's backyard, South African bodybuilding champion Tumi Masite recalls the day Arnold Schwarzenegger's former trainer paid him a visit.

Reg Park had heard about Masite during a trip to South Africa a decade ago and offered him advice that helped the bodybuilder win national championships. Now Masite wants to give other poor South Africans a chance to lead a healthier - and more prosperous - life.

"Reg Park taught me a lot. He was also from a backyard gym. My dream became to reach out to the disadvantaged communities," Masite told Reuters, gesturing to a rubbish-strewn street in Johannesburg's rundown Alexandra township, where men sit swigging beer and smoking cigarettes.

"A lot of black people lack basic education about a healthy lifestyle. Lots of people are not working. Ikasi Gym is here for the people."

Masite still works out in the courtyard of his family home in Alexandra, but much of the property has been converted into a popular gym, packed with locals lifting weights, riding exercise bikes and punching boxing bags. He's opened two more of his Ikasi Gym branches and plans to expand further.

His goal is to bring exercise to South Africans who can't afford $60 a month at upmarket chains. Masite's 350 members pay 100 rand ($6.45) a month.

Masite believes his business can succeed because townships are tight, often neglected communities, and he can offer more than just bodybuilding training and a place to work out.

Ikasi Gym is helping around 50 people recover from strokes. Masite also trains young South Africans who have had run-ins with the law or drug problems. Some of Ikasi's members have got jobs in security since joining.   Continued...

Lwandile Futshane is reflected in a mirror as he takes a break during his training session at a township gym in Johannesburg's Alexandra township, South Africa March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko