“This Is How Sport Saved Me After My Husband Passed Away”
In partnership with adidas; Photographs by Donovon Thorne
When locked onto the idea of ‘Sport has the power to change lives’, they recruited five our most-loved WH fit family to headline the campaign: Pop-Up Gym’s Letshego Zulu; Mapule Ndhlovu, Cara-Lisa Sham, Carmen Crous and Tracey-Lee Lusty. Whether sport changed their destiny or their health, eased their demons or vanquished their grief, their collective stories are so incredibly inspiring, we decided no amount of sharing them would be enough…
On 18 July 2016, life came to a standstill. An attempt to raise awareness for the organisation as part of the Trek4Mandela expedition ended in heartbreak. Her husband, legendary racing car driver, Gugu — the person with whom she’d pledged to spend the rest of her life — passed away while trying to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.
“The first three months [after his passing] were the hardest,” she says. Training and exercising were completely driven out of her mind as she tried to make sense of her grief. It was completely out of character for Letshego, who came from a sporty family and had played numerous sports since she was a young child. “Every term when I asked whether I could try the next thing, my mom would always say yes. I was lucky that I had a mom who could buy me a tennis racquet one semester and spikes the next.”
Over the years, sport became more than just a fun activity for Letshego. It was also the outlet through which she could get rid of all her pent-up energy. “I remember back at school when you had exams, you’d feel like your brain is going to pop. I would literally just put on my takkies, and head to the school track and run around in circles.”
But in the wake of her loss, even doing something that she’d always loved seemed like too much for Letshego. It was a phone call from a friend that finally got her off the couch and back into her activewear. “She asked me when the last time I had exercised was and I responded: Mount Kilimanjaro,” Letshego recalls. “She then said to me, ‘Gugu is sitting there shaking his head, because he knows you’re not doing something that makes you happy and I know that exercising makes you happy, so get off your butt and go for a run or do something.’”
That phone call was the reality check that Letshego needed. “If it wasn’t for that phone call, a year could have gone by and I would have given up something that was my life.”
Her return to sport saw Letshego becoming fitter, faster and stronger. “Sport became my coping mechanism. It’s absolutely anchored me in the sense that I had an outlet, something to focus on.”
A year after the tragic loss of her husband on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Letshego returned to the mountain, committed to finishing what they had started together. This time, she made it to the top. One half of the duo who had called themselves the Adventure Couple, finally standing at the highest point in Africa. She breathed in the thin mountain air and cried. “I realised that I had reached the summit. I had achieved it, but my better half was not there with me. He wanted to stand on the roof of Africa with his own two feet and, yes, I achieved it for both of us, but I missed him and I wished that he had been there physically,” she reveals.
When you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, the idea of exercising may feel like the last thing you want to do. But during the hardest three months of her life, it was sport that gave Letshego the strength to make it through the darkness. “If I didn’t do sport before my husband passed, I don’t know what I would have used as my coping mechanism,” she maintains.
Looking to be inspired by more sportswomen? Here are 10 local fitness gurus who will inspire you to live your best life.