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Defying stereotypes

Lifestyle entrepreneur, international bodybuilding and fitness judge, and professional fitness athlete Hende-Mari Strydom is a beguiling mix of strength and gentleness, assertiveness and confidence, and graciousness and humility. For her being a woman means finding the delicate balance between being a warrior and a nurturer…

First, the million-dollar question, how do you manage to look as good as you do?

I do have a pool of naughty genes in my family that let me gain weight easier than some other lucky people. But it’s still what you put into your mouth which makes you gain weight (the gene thing is just an excuse). Most people don’t believe me when they hear that I haven’t been training consistently for the past three years. People have the misconception that I have the luxury and time to train for hours every day. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My life is a rollercoaster now, and I have so many balls to juggle. I do however keep my kitchen clean and enjoy eating clean 95 percent of the time. My occasional cheat would be a glass of good Prosecco or red wine, and harvest table treats.

Is eating right as important as exercise?

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Eating right is the most important aspect – not crash diets, but a healthy, balanced and consistent lifestyle. Exercise makes you feel good, but only a healthy eating plan will make you see results in how you look.

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?

Definitely. I’m a lifestyle entrepreneur, and I’m fortunate to have learnt a lot from my husband, Marius, who is an unbelievable businessman. Everything we do has some sort of business aspect to it. It’s the way we live and the way he grew up.

What have been your greatest achievements thus far?

My greatest professional achievement was in 2016 when I completed my MBA and won the Miss Universe Fitness title in Orlando, Florida. I was also working at the time and honestly do not know how I did it all. My proudest personal achievement is seeing my daughter grow up as a confident, healthy, hard-working girl with a kind and beautiful heart.

How did your fitness career begin?

What started as a personal challenge to drop a few pesky kilos quickly turned into a whirlwind and led to fitness competition success. All of this was obviously much tougher than it seemed from the outside. My mornings started at 03:30 and I was lucky to get to bed before midnight – juggling it all with my marriage, as well as my daughter. The amount of discipline that went into my eating and training programme was so intense that I almost burnt out at some stages of the journey. But, I made the choice, and I did it in the healthiest way possible, and nothing was going to stop me! This led to me establishing ZooZLifestyle, a fitness and lifestyle brand that allows people from all walks of life to follow my example. I live the ZooZLifestyle, and I lead by example. People know this and trust me because of this.

What great goals do you have for the future?

I’m pursuing a PhD, and it’s stressful and very time-consuming. I plan to complete it by the end of next year, as I want to use the findings from my study to take my ZooZLifestyle brand internationally. I’m also the South African President of the World Fitness Federation and I want to make WFF SA a success. However, one of my biggest dreams is to have another child.

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

Most people think I’m this huge bodybuilder when they see me in photos. In fact, I wear a size 6/8, weigh 58kg, wear a size 5 shoe, and I’m 1.69m tall. People are shocked when they see me in real life. I’m also an introvert, self-conscious about everything about myself, and I cry when I’m happy, sad, and mad.

Lastly, you believe in defying stereotypes.

After people see my fitness and bodybuilding performances they might think, ‘What is she doing and why?’ or, ‘This is too muscular for a woman’, or, ‘Is this what being fit entails?’. I’ve been through hell and back with critics and stereotypes. Initially I was hurt and offended, but then I realised that most people simply don’t understand what leading a fit and healthy lifestyle and preparing for competitions entails. So, for now I focus on helping women to live an authentic life.

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