PHOTOGRAPHER: SHAUN MALLETT. ASSISTANT: JULIAN VAN JAARSVELD.
Nineteen-year-old Khethelo Malevu, a rhythmic gymnast from Edenvale, has just returned from Germany and the Netherlands as part of the 33-strong troupe of South African gymnasts who participated at the Gymnastica Bürstadt and the World Gymnaestrada Amsterdam.
Just before she jetted off, Khethelo (or Kyti as she is known to her friends) chatted to Toyota Connect about her rhythmic gymnastics journey and what it takes to achieve your dreams.
“Rhythmic teaches so many life lessons. It teaches communication without having to say anything. If you mess up, you have to know how to pick up and keep going.”
Khethelo performing with her favourite apparatus, the clubs.
Ribbons are one of the five apparatuses in rhythmic gymnastics.
In rehearsal for the upcoming international Gymnaestrada and Gymnastica Bürstadt festivals
Rhythmic gymnastics is a form of gymnastics mixed with ballet and dancing where the gymnasts use five apparatus (rope, ball, hoop, clubs, and ribbon) as part of their routines. The sport combines gymnastics, dance and movements using only your body weight, so gymnasts must be strong, flexible, agile, and coordinated.
A demanding sport
At 12, Khethelo (or Kyti, as her friends call her) was relatively old to start the sport, but she knew the minute she did her first trial class that this was what she wanted to do. She had previously done swimming and drum majorettes at school, which would stand her in good stead for the discipline and skill needed for the demanding sport of rhythmic gymnastics.
Gymagic, now Gracelings, was the chosen gymnastics centre as it was the closest, and according to her coach Laverne Swanepoel, “Khethelo stood out immediately. She was quiet and observant at first but was very quick to master the apparatus and body skills required. Her dedication really stood out.”
In just seven short years, Khethelo has risen in the rhythmic ranks from a complete beginner to competing nationally and internationally, coaching Olympic hopefuls, and qualifying as a level-two judge.
Why rhythmic gymnastics?
“At first, I wanted to try artistic gymnastics because I didn’t want to be left out — I wanted to do the backflips, etc,” explains Khethelo. “But my mom encouraged me to try rhythmic. I was sceptical at first, but after my first trial lesson, I fell in love immediately. As well as the dancing and fun I have with the sport, rhythmic teaches so many life lessons. It teachescommunication without having to say anything. With rhythmic if something goes wrong, you don’t have a second shot. If you mess up, you have to know how to pick up and keep going. I take these lessons into my life as well.”
Her favourite apparatus are the clubs. “It’s a very difficult apparatus to work with but also most fun. You have to work a-symmetrically and use both hands at the same time.”
Khethelo attributes her success to her mom, her coach Laverne and Gymnaestrada coach Aimee van Rooyen. “My mom is my number one role model. She has been the yeast to the bread of this whole journey. She encouraged me every step of the way and gets me to competitions. She’s the reason I did my judging qualification. Without her, this whole adventure would not have happened. And then there are my coaches, Laverne and Aimee. They have given me the opportunities I never dreamed of, and I will forever be grateful.”
Proud mom Peculia is her biggest supporter. She realised she had the potential to do great things. “Khethelo has always been independent and very self-aware from a very young age. She works hard for everything she achieves, is a visionary, passionate, determined and very organised child who plans way ahead and focuses on achieving her goals. I don’t even remember having to push her to do anything. My role has always been that of creating an enabling environment for her to strive in. From an early age, I knew there was something super special within her. She plans, puts everything on paper and then sets about achieving her goals and not allowing anything to stand in her way!”
Start your impossible
In the build-up to the 2018 Olympics, Toyota created the Start Your Impossible campaign. True to form, these words embody Khethelo perfectly, says coach Laverne. “Gymnastics is considered a young-person’s sport; the younger you are when you start, the better. Very rarely do gymnasts do well when they start later. Khethelo has defied all odds and worked hard for what she has achieved.
“I also have gymnasts who quit in matric because the workload is too much, but once again, Khethelo set her mind on doing both, and she did both well. She’s now in her first year of varsity, and while most would choose to focus only on their studies, Khethelo is studying, coaching, and taking part in the World Gymnaestrada, all while keeping a smile on her face.”
World Gymnaestrada and Gymnastica Bürstadt are festivals that take place every few years to celebrate gymnastics in all shapes and forms. Sixty countries come together, showing their love for the sport, with voting left up to the audience. Team South Africa performed their nine-minute routine at both festivals and was thrilled to come out on top in Germany and was the team to watch in Amsterdam.
The moment when it was announced that Team South Africa had won the Gymnastica Bürstadt.
The Toyota sponsorship
In keeping with Toyota’s ethos of mobility going beyond cars, overcoming challenges and making dreams come true, TSAM sponsored Khethelo for this opportunity of a lifetime, covering most of her expenses and providing her with a Samsung phone to document her experience.
Of the sponsorship, Peculia says, “I had been struggling to cover the expenses as I was unemployed and recently divorced. The peace of mind of knowing that her trip was covered, and her dreams would not be denied due to my situation meant so much to me. My daughter is a gem and loves what she does, and this opportunity meant so much. I can’t thank Toyota enough. I hope that they realise the impact they have made on my daughter’s life through the sponsorship. Our family is so grateful and appreciative of this opportunity afforded to Khethelo.”
The inspirational Khethelo has this advice to offer aspiring athletes: “Don’t be afraid to fail or try new things. It is at that moment when you realise you can do it. You’ll fail when you tell yourself you can’t do something. Rather tell yourself just to try it. You’ll be surprised at what you can do.”