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Power woman

The theme for this year’s Spar ladies 10km run is #IRise – and it could not be better suited to ambassador Zinhle Ndawonde, who is a firefighter based at King Shaka International Airport and a professional Sharks and Springbok rugby player.

Strong and determined, Zinhle is the kind of woman that all young girls should be looking up to. Despite having had a challenging childhood and facing much criticism for her decisions to play rugby and work in a male-dominant profession, she has chosen to rise above it all and follow her dreams. We caught up with this incredibly inspiring power woman …

Tell us about a typical day in your life, and how you balance your sport and work commitments.
My days are usually quite simple, but busy. I usually start off with a jog and bit of conditioning before I get going with my allocated work duties for the day. During the day I usually have firefighter training that I have to do, and then in the evenings I go to gym for some strength training. My days usually go by pretty fast. In terms of balance, I am really lucky that my job and sport actually complement each other. They both have a similar sentiment – being fit mentally and physically – and, because we have a gym at work and I have space to do what I need to, I can usually ‘kill two birds with one stone’, staying conditioned for rugby and firefighting at the same time.

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How does the theme for this year’s Spar Ladies 10km race, #IRise,
resonate with you?
The theme resonates deeply with me and I am humbled to have been chosen as an ambassador. Growing up in a not-so-great environment in Inanda, I faced many challenges as a young girl. My friends were getting pregnant and taking drugs, and I could’ve ended up doing the same. I have also faced a lot of criticism and harsh words from the guys because I’ve chosen to play a male-dominant sport and work in a male-dominant profession. I was raised by a single mother who was a domestic worker and circumstances at home were not good, but instead of allowing that to define who I was or who I became, I chose instead to use those challenges to strengthen me. I also chose to rise above the stereotyping that people apply to women playing rugby or being in male-dominant professions. I am unapologetic about the woman I am.

Do you enjoy running and where do you usually run?
I’ll be honest with you and say most professional athletes don’t enjoy running – especially when it’s for conditioning on the field! I do love running on the beach though. That is where I go to get in my ‘zone’ and spend time with myself and my inner space. It allows me the space and time I need to think, dream and plan.

What would your advice be to young girls in a similar situation you have been in?
I always tell girls, especially those from rural areas who I work with a lot these days, is this: we all have problems and challenges. It’s how you use those challenges that count. Don’t allow your circumstances to make you feel like you’re not good enough to pursue your dreams or blur your vision. Instead, use them to change how your future plays out. Don’t let people discourage you or say you can’t be anything you want to be. You can. It just takes dedication, focus and fight. You have to fight for what you want and make yourself heard.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Nothing ever comes easy in life. Some things feel like they are taking forever to work in your favour, but use the time while you wait for those things by making sure you’re working hard, getting prepared and are ready. When I decided I wanted to be a professional player I had to make big changes in my life. It’s about discipline and working hard to achieve your goals.

Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I hope to have a foundation for young girls where they can learn the basics of rugby from a young age (just like boys do). Many female rugby players don’t know the basics. Some of them only begin playing in their 20s. Imagine if they started learning from the age of 7 or 10? I would love to mentor young girls and help create opportunities for them to play overseas so they can bring home international experience and knowledge to share here with us.

What you need to know about this year’s Spar virtual challenge
The virtual run (or jog or walk) can be at your own pace at any location. You can run in groups or with a friend, but you must do it any time between 6am and 6pm on Saturday, 3 September. The virtual race is limited to 60 000 entries, so enter now if you haven’t already! Entry is R120 and includes a virtual pack with a T-shirt, buff, drawstring bag, printed copy of the My Virtual Challenge magazine and your medal. Details: www.sparvirtualchallenge.co.za

Text: Leah Shone | Makeup: Gina Rodrigues Makeup Artist | Photographs: Chris Allan Photography

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