Everyday heroes with Letshego Zulu

What made you get into the fitness industry?

Well, for me, it's two things. You know, in my capacity, I have essentially been physically active since the age of eight. And when I say since the age of eight, I'm talking about, you know, organised physical activity. So my mom was a roadrunner, a marathon runner from as young as I could ever remember. And I think, you know, my interest in running, which was my essential in entry into fitness, was at about eight years old when we used to live on-campus, she was a lecturer at Fort Hare University for those that go 40.

It's in the Eastern Cape. And we lived on campus, and there was a running track; obviously, you know her running checks. And my mom in the afternoons would just run around the track, whether it's 20 laps or 40 laps, I can't even remember. I would always tag along and take some toys and sit on the grandstands and keep myself busy while she did that.

And eventually, one day, I said, You know what? I should want to try this thing. You know, my mom loves it so much. As a little girl, you look up to your mom, and that's essentially how it all started. I started, you know, I joined Mom, and I remember running my first five-kilometre fun run when I was about eight years old.

So that, for me, was my first essential entry into the fitness industry. And I just never looked back. You know, at school, I did everything under the sun. I tried everything from squash to tennis. In athletics, I did high-jumping; I tried long-jumping. I tried middle distance. So I essentially did everything, even swimming.

That stuck with me right through school to a point where, you know, when I was in grade ten or 11, we had to start thinking about what we wanted to do after school. I definitely knew that it would have something to do with physicality. When I got to varsity, I then studied sports management, changed to sports science, and eventually qualified as a Biokineticist.

So that little eight-year-old girl sitting there watching her mom was the essential kick, you know, entry into the fitness industry, and it just never stopped because I've just had this love of fitness. And, in the professional sense, I'm not practising as a Biokineticist, I haven't for about six years now, but I'm still very passionate about helping other people in the sports space.

What has been your biggest inspiration in life?

You know, for me, the people around me. My biggest inspiration is the people I surround myself with—watching my daughter form into a better version of herself daily, from my friends and family around me to my mom, who I've always looked up to.

I find inspiration in the people I live with, the people around me, the people I work with; that's where I draw my inspiration from.

In your book, "I choose to live", you referenced a poem called "Death is Nothing At All". Why did you choose this poem, and how did you find it? How did it find you?

I think more than one person shared the poem with me early on. You know, I think that early on, I mean, within the first six to 12 months of my late husband passing away, as I was being comforted by a lot of people.

So I didn't find it. You know, it found me. It was sent to me by a couple of people. And for me, it brought so much comfort; you know, it helped me view death in a completely different, different way. And you know, when every time I read it and every time I shared with the next person, for me, I find that it helps to keep your loved ones that have passed away close.

And it kind of, in a way, eases the pain or helps you process the death but still keep your loved ones close to you. So just it's an entirely different way of looking at death and losing your loved ones because you don't necessarily lose them. You still have them in your memory. And there's so much that you can hold onto to help you process the loss and continue living life instead of being stuck in a dark hole filled with pain.

So for me, it helps ease the pain and enables you to pick up the pieces and continue living life amazing. And because, you know, it brought me comfort, I hope that it brings other people comfort.

What advice would you give to people who are going through life-changing events?

When I reflect on various life-changing events that I've gone through, I just found a way to instead take it one day at a time. And I think people tend to share that and say, and I'll take it one day at a time. It means that it meant the world to me.

In hindsight, when I think back to how I processed. I mean, for example, my late husband passing away, I took it one day at a time because no two days are the same. You'll have good days, and you'll have bad days. You know, it's almost like it's like a roller coaster. You know, roller coasters have ups and downs. They turn left; they turn right. And, you know, sometimes slow down, sometimes they go faster. So, you know, it's easy to say, sit there and say, oh, my goodness, you know, I'm struggling with this. I don't know. What the future holds, but nobody knows what the future holds. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. So my piece of advice is to take it one day at a time.

Be in the moment, be in the day or even be in the hour that you're in because we don't know what the next hour will bring. So literally, take it one moment at a time, not even one day at a time.

Do you feel like you only noticed that after it, that you took it one day at a time, or did you have to practice what you were preaching?

I didn't know about it. I just happened to do it. I know what I mean. I have to switch off and allow myself to be in the moment. And if the moment calls for tears, then I will cry. If the moment calls for laughing, then I would laugh. But I found that time to think about what will happen in the future.

How am I going to overcome the situation that I find myself in? It doesn't help to think, you know, months in advance or days in advance because nobody knows what tomorrow brings in. You know, take take it one moment at a time or take it one day at a time. Sometimes, you tend to get stuck in. Yeah. And I'm not saying I don't think about the future. Absolutely. Think about it. But take it one day at a time because thinking so far in advance, you might end up just breaking your own heart before you even know what the outcome will be. So instead, take it one day at a time and deal with what you are dealing with in front of you right now because ultimately, it will get you to the future in time, be present.

What is something that you've learned about yourself during this life-changing event?

I learned that it could only get better. You know, someone once said to me that the grass could only get greener. And I used to laugh at that because you sit there and when you feel like the grass in your life is brown, and you don't see how it can get greener, it does eventually. You know, it might not happen now.

It might only happen a couple of months in a year, but it can only get better. You know, we can all find a way out of hot or painful situations. Just give yourself time. I don't like the saying time heals. I think I can't remember how they say it, but time heals. But the truth is, it does eventually, you learn to live with that life-changing events and to learn to live with them, you know, makes it better in a way. So it can only get better. That's what I've learned.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Learn to ask more. I think we tend to, or at least I do; I tend to be scared to ask because I think it's one of those it's fear of whether it's rejection or just the fear of no. But I mean, that's the worst-case scenario. Sometimes you don't ask, and then you find out later that it would have been a yes for whatever you asked for.

And then you hit yourself over the head because now it's a missed opportunity. So for me, it's still something that I struggle with, but I'm better at it now. But I certainly wish I could have learned to be bold enough to ask from a younger age. The worst-case scenario is a no, but the best case is a yes.

What is your mantra that you live by day by day?

One of my mantras is – If not, why not.

I use that for everything, for example, the Cape Epic, which is a tough race. It's so hard that, you know, the field of women is so tiny. I think it's probably about 95% of males and 5% females. It's just not so hard.

I  was hit with fear when my riding partner asked me to ride it with her over a year ago. I've done this event twice before, and it takes so much out of you. It's just a painful process because of the demanding race, but I started thinking to myself, if not, why not? Why wouldn't I do it?

So I apply that to everything around me. I always ask myself, if not, why not? And I think it's a good mantra to live by. It gets me into good and bad situations and experiences, but I'm living life, so definitely that's one of them.

And the other one is #NoExcuses; I use that a lot with fitness. I think the two mantras work together. If not, why not? #NoExcuses.

So every morning when I wake up, and my alarm goes off, I need to go to the gym, and I'm like, oh, #NoExcuses. Just get out of bed and do it.

I love sharing my stories and experiences, hoping to inspire the next person.