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For most of us, the idea of settling into our golden years probably involves slowing down. But in the Cosmo City neighborhood of Johannesburg, in South Africa, one gym is redefining early retirement with its so-called “Boxing Grannies” program.
Started back in 2013 at the A-Team gym by head trainer Claude Maphosa, the program is designed specifically for women in their 60s and older. They meet twice a week to lift medicine balls, spar and jab away the aches and pains of old age.
Last October, the grannies caught the attention of The Points Guy team, so we headed to South Africa for a round with the “gogos.” Upon arrival, Maphosa greeted us at his desk surrounded by bodybuilding trophies. On the wall hung a poster of his younger self in peak physical condition. After we exchanged pleasantries, Maphosa instructed us to form a circle for a group prayer before we began the program.
As we bowed our heads, I couldn’t help but think about the difficult news I received just one week earlier: my mother-in-law, Daisy, had been diagnosed with cancer. Because my wife is from South Africa, I was filled with an even greater sense of purpose, being here at this moment, on assignment. After all, Daisy is a picture of health. She exercises five days a week, rarely drinks and has never smoked a single cigarette in her life. Yet, of all things, she’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. An affliction similar to what many of the grannies are currently fighting outside the ring.
When it was time for the grannies to line up in formation to begin their routine, Maphosa spared nobody in sight, including our fearless leader and video director, who was immediately thrown into the mix, leaving her directorial duties behind. There was a quick lap around the gym, followed by juking and jabbing to the rhythm of Afropop; a spectacle worthy of a Mariam Makeba music video.
Brian Kelly, The Points Guy himself, was shown no mercy, either. Maphosa threw him some gloves and instructed him to fall in line with the other grannies. What followed was an intense routine of sparring, shadow boxing, weight training and speed bag exercises. The program looked exhausting for anyone young and fit, let alone someone twice my age. It was inspiring to see this community so full of life.
Many of the Boxing Grannies said the program had given them the energy and stamina they were losing with age. Now, they are “no longer sore,” and one woman even claimed that, after three years in the program, her diabetes is under control.
But above all, the Boxing Grannies embody strength and perseverance. Watching them — their incredible positivity and discipline — gave me confidence that Daisy, too, can overcome whatever obstacle comes her way. Sometimes, you just need to be taken out of your comfort zone to discover what it takes to keep fighting.
As Kelly said, “There’s nothing more motivating than someone twice your age kicking your,” well, you know.
Want to learn more about Boxing Grannies and the A-Team Foundation? Find out how to donate or become a partner. (This year, The Points Guy became an official sponsor of the A-Team this year.) And if you’re headed to Johannesburg and want to box with the grannies yourself, sign up through Airbnb Experiences.
Of course, you don’t have to enter the ring with a Boxing Granny to have a meaningful experience during your travels. Seek out other public projects in cities across the globe for a chance to mingle with locals and engage with new communities.
All photos by Kristin Kremers / The Points Guy.
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