Every single person has the potential to be great and what starts out as an acorn becomes an oak tree. This was the analogy used by Sea Point resident and former body builder Joey Koffman who gives motivational talks as part of the Days of Hope campaign.
Days of Hope consists of various organisations and focuses on helping underprivileged children.
Mr Koffman has done talks at two schools so far – at Prestwich Primary in Green Point and Delta Primary School, in Steenberg, which he attended.
Mr Koffman grew up in Steenberg and was drawn to body building after seeing it in magazines.
“As a young boy I fell in love with the sport of body building because I was short and tiny. I developed this inferiority because I was always the shortest among my peers. I thought that it would do well for my confidence,” he said.
Mr Koffman was only able to get into the sport seriously when he finally got to use a proper gym, Bloombergs on the Foreshore, in 1991.
“There were very few gymnasiums around and as a young boy we didn’t have access. It is amazing because the dream stayed with me until I reached 19 when I first had an opportunity to go into a gym.”
He still remembers when he walked in to Bloombergs for the first time and saw all the body builders.
“It just reaffirmed my passion about doing this with my own body. I started collecting these muscle magazines which weren’t as readily available as they are today.”
He started educating himself on the sport as well as the nutritional aspect of it.
By the year 2000, after having trained on and off for about eight years, Mr Koffman had developed a good physique. He was challenged by his friends to enter a body building competition. He competed in his first amateur competition in Mitchell’s Plain and won it.
“That did really well for me and I wanted to keep on doing this. I continued training on a more serious note and educated myself about developing my body.”
Mr Koffman also decided to pursue a career as a personal trainer.
He got his diploma and applied for a job at Virgin Active in 2002. He still works at the gym in Green Point and has trained thousands of people over the years.
In 2007, after winning the provincial championship a couple of times, he won the national championship in the welterweight division.
“My long-term dream to represent South Africa at the world championships finally materialised when I got selected to go to South Korea. It was a massive experience for me because it was a dream that I had when I first stepped on stage.”
He retired from professional competition last year and now goes to schools to encourage children to also follow their dreams.
“When you have a dream, it may seem small when you are young, but if it is your passion, it is possible to achieve it. I use that experience to motivate kids, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and feel that there is no hope. My passion is now to empower them.”
Mr Koffman also grew up without the necessary facilities and resources but he had his passion.
“I was able to achieve my dreams and that is the story that I share with the kids every time I get an opportunity.”
Mr Koffman said he was walking down Main Road in Sea Point, where he has been living for 15 years, and was struck by the amount of homeless people he saw. “People don’t even notice the plight because I think people have become so desensitised to the problem that they don’t see it.”
He thought about ways he could help to make a difference. This led to him making sandwiches by buying four loaves of bread and handing them out.
“I soon became a bit despondent because I saw that it wasn’t really making the impact that I hoped but through that I learnt of the Ladles of Love who were doing it on a much bigger scale.”
He joined the Ladles of Love project which is part of the Days of Hope Initiative.
They have done two events at schools so far, including his old school, Delta Primary School.
For Mr Koffman, going back to his old school was a full circle experience.
“It was very emotional for me to go back my school and neighbourhood after so many years. I grew up in circumstances that were quite challenging but I was still able to make a success of myself. To tell them that you know what, you can do this, it was amazing for me. It felt gratifying on the same level as when I got selected to go the world championships.”
He said when you start such an initiative, it is important to build relationships and continue what you start.
He said the principal of Delta Primary School approached him to come back and do more motivational workshops with the pupils.
“I am really excited about the possibility of it and helping them find their passion. I was exposed to neighbourhoods where there was gangsterism, alcohol and drug abuse. What these kids face on many levels is probably even worse. There is a need for education to be made accessible so they don’t have to travel far. The feeding scheme is how we’re trying to give them meals to be focused.
“It is on many levels quite shocking that socio economic circumstances have not changed much, especially on the Cape Flats. I believe that problems of gangsterism and poverty extend beyond a political solution. As a society we need to take ownership and contribute in ways that resonate in us like helping out in a soup kitchen. As a country we need to do this thing together, it is a collective problem so we need to do whatever we can as individuals to help.”
Mr Koffman said that he will be missing the competitive aspect of body building but is looking forward to the future and inspiring more children.
“Discover what your passion is and go for it with every single fibre of your being. Once you discover your passion, keep it alive even if your circumstances change. In every single person there is the potential to become great.”