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Fight for it

Step into the ring with Yomi Shokunbi at Zoo Lake … he’s played professional soccer, he’s modelled and now he’s a boxing trainer who’ll not only inspire you with his enthusiasm, chances are you’ll become as close as family!

If you’re a regular Zoo Lake visitor, you’ve probably come across Yomi Shokunbi. He’s a mainstay at the park, and can often be seen training his boxing clients one-on-one or in groups of two. He’s crazy about boxing, and loves instilling this passion in his clients too.

‘Boxing is a total body workout – it is a fun way to do exercise and is also an excellent stress reliever,’ Yomi says.

‘It builds muscles and can help with weight loss. It keeps you focused and helps with coordination. It’s a great way to channel your energy and get fit. It also empowers the women who I train to defend themselves so they don’t have to live in fear.’

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Boxing isn’t just a way to stay in shape for Yomi. He views it as his higher calling. ‘Boxing means everything to me. Boxing is my religion, and my salvation. It keeps me strong. It is a commitment and teaches you never to give up.’

‘Never give up’ could well be Yomi’s motto. Born in Nigeria, Yomi was a phenomenal soccer player, playing professionally in Lagos before an injury took care of his aspirations to try out for the international Julius Berger team. ‘I was seriously injured. My soccer dreams were over. So I then became a professional model.’

What brought him to South Africa? ‘My agency in Lagos wanted to establish itself in South Africa so they made the decision to bring a few models out from Nigeria back in 2009. The venture fell through but I decided to stay – I fell in love with this country, the weather and the people. I love the opportunities that South Africa has to offer. If you work hard, stay focused, pray and believe in yourself, good things will come to you.’

As for how a model becomes a boxer, it started in his childhood. ‘I had always loved boxing as a child. After moving here, I decided to join the George Ikohsi Boxing Gym in Hillbrow. That is where I met my trainer and mentor, James Ike, who is also from Nigeria. He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know,’ Yomi explains.

‘I have been boxing professionally now for seven years and have a few fights under my belt.’

Yomi is also focused on using his boxing as a tool for community outreach. ‘A key focus is helping the youth and the street kids in the area. We want to empower them and give them direction.’

An hour with Yomi tells you exactly why his clients love him so much and keep coming back time and time again. His enthusiasm is infectious – and he knows it! ‘My clients love my energy. I am all about building my clients up, encouraging them and supporting them on their fitness journey. I connect with my clients and they become family. They love how I incorporate different exercises into their routine and how I motivate them.’

Training in a park is an unusual choice, but Yomi is pretty happy with the current set-up. ‘I love being outdoors in nature and being able to train outside, rather than in a gym where you are confined inside a small place. I love the interaction with all the passers-by and I know most of the people that walk regularly at Zoo Lake in the mornings – including the names of most of the dogs!

‘The SA Marathon team train here every morning and we all encourage each other. They shout “ja mon” as they know I am half-Jamaican and I reply “more fire” – that is what it is all about – more fire! We are a real community. I also try to empower the homeless people and often bring them food when I can. It is a safe place to just be yourself and express yourself through boxing.’

This year, Yomi aims to focus on growth. ‘I want to grow my fitness business and client base and I want to start offering Zumba lessons in the park as I am a qualified Zumba instructor. I am also planning to get a website up and running this year, as well as book some fights into my calendar.’

When Yomi isn’t boxing, training others or befriending neighbourhood pups, he loves cooking and meditating, as well as prayer and reading the Bible. ‘I love listening to Rasta music and working out – yes, even in my spare time! I also enjoy watching football and a good boxing match on the TV. And I love eating chocolate!’

Details: If you’d like to book a session with Yomi, you can find him on Facebook and Instagram @yomishokunbi or you can message him on 078-388-1598.

Text: Tayla Blaire. Photo: MEGAN BRETT.

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