These gymnasts don’t need fancy facilities to raise the bar


The bell rings at the end of the day at Ikaya Primary School, and a carnival arrives. Multi-coloured ribbons fly above the dull concrete. A group of girls jump and twirl in the middle of the courtyard. The hard floor outside isn’t the ideal place to rehearse gymnastics, but it’s all they have. The team approach each practice with enthusiasm. Their teacher, Pinkie Yolisa, cheers them on. She is convinced that despite their lack of resources, their talent can be honed. “Sweat and hard work is the only way to victory,” Yolisa says. That and her secret weapon – improvisation.

Gymnastics isn’t common in Yolisa’s community of Kayamandi in the Western Cape. But when the school teacher attended a gymnastics festival, she was entranced by the strength and artistry of the other athletes. Yolisa wanted her students to have the same opportunities to stretch their abilities. The school where she taught had no coach, no gym, and no equipment. Yolisa had to come up with solutions. She attended workshops to train and qualify as a gymnastics coach and judge, and found a way to implement the sport at her school. Today, the team has access to a fully equipped gym once a week. The rest of the time, the gymnasts make do with courtyards or tarred roads. Blankets and mats are their only defence for their bare feet on the hot concrete. These limitations only fuel the team. “I see how these conditions drive the girls to rise above their circumstances,” Yolisa says.

Many of her learners have gone on to compete at national level, performing with as much skill and talent as the more privileged participants. “When the girls compete you will never know their struggles,” Yolisa says. These acrobats don’t just defy gravity, but expectations too. As they perform on school grounds for their fellow pupils, the athletes stand out in their colourful leotards. “Gymnastics has helped them realise their true potential,” Yolisa says. “By being resourceful they can change their lives.” Her determination to provide her students with opportunities demonstrates that with some creative thinking, people can achieve beyond the limits.