Gymnastic coach Kediemetse Moloeloe wants her gymnasts to compete on the biggest stage of all, the Olympic Games.
Moloeloe, 35, owns the Thaba ’Nchu Gymnastics Club in the Free State town located 60km east of Bloemfontein.
The club trains 50 children from as young as six to 17 from rural communities in the hopes of one day competing at the Olympics.
Introduced to the sport by her father in 1995, the retired gymnast represented South Africa at the World Gymnaestrada in Sweden in 1999 and again in Austria in 2007.
Moloeloe’s love for the sport led to the opening of the club at Mmabana Cultural Centre in Thaba ’Nchu in 2008.
She approached the Free State Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation to lease the abandoned centre and open a facility that would give young people access to an alternative sport.
Against all odds
The club’s worn-out floor and old apparatus have not dampened the spirit of its rising star, Valentine Lepoi, 14, who won a silver medal at the 2017 SA Gym Games.
The grade eight learner at Thukanang Primary School defiantly dreams of Olympic gold and says being teased for playing a “girl’s sport” has not diminished his passion for gymnastics.
Wearing white sweats and training pants, Lepoi conquers the high bars with effortless ease. He has been training with Moloeloe for four years.
“My dream is to travel the world and represent my country,” he grins, dusting off white chalk from his pants.
Lepoi is not the only budding athlete in the club, Xoliswa Mbob, 15, thanked the sport for boosting her self-confidence and discipline.
Moloeloe explains how most of her gymnasts come from poor families and can barely afford the R120 monthly training fee, which is used for the upkeep of the facility. “About 80% of my students come from families that rely on social grants,” she says.
The coach told New Frame that running a gym is not without challenges. But, according to her, in spite of old equipment and a lack of sponsors during tournaments, her club is producing potential champions.
“The club has taught me perseverance. We have been operating since 2008 but we only won our first medal in 2017,” she says.
Moloeloe points out the club’s growth and successes, and says the sport instils discipline and teaches children to dream beyond their circumstances. She explains that the club was inspired by a need to curb increasing gangsterism, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse in the area.
“I want my students to compete on the Olympic stage”, Moloeloe adds, “I want my club to produce the best gymnast in South Africa.”
The club holds yearly shows for the community during December to showcase the club’s talent.