HARARE, ZIMBABWE– 43-year-old Christina Matange arrives at a local fast food restaurant spotting a medium-sized sports bag with her younger sister in tow. Moments later, Matange unzips her bag and sets several trophies, medals and certificates on the table and her sister thumps the largest trophy towards the edge. An impressive exhibition of Matange’s bodybuilding career, but she is at wits end. Over two decades invested in a career in bodybuilding gone to shambles. She can no longer afford to compete and in the event that she does, the winnings for competitive bodybuilding in Zimbabwe have reduced significantly over the years.

Matange grew up in Matapi Flats, a dilapidated section of Mbare, one of Zimbabwe’s oldest high-density suburbs. Currently, she shares a sectioned single room in the same complex with her two sons aged 11 and 15.

“If you see the place I live in, you will not believe that someone who has won so many awards lives in such a place, but there’s nothing I can do, that’s the reality of my situation,” says Matange.

Between 1996, the year in which Matange won her first trophy until 2016 when she last competed, she won a little over $1000 which she used to furnish her room. To make ends meet, Matange works several jobs including hair braiding but still struggles to care for her children, her youngest one is currently in her friend’s care.

Matange fears she will repeat a family cycle she tried hard to counter, not providing a decent education and lifestyle for her children.

Matange’s son, 15-year-old Tafadzwa Maponga glues back a tag onto one of his mother’s bodybuilding trophies.

The oldest of three children, Matange was raised by her mother and stepfather with whom she had a hostile relationship.

“My childhood was unstable, I was moved across different relatives’ homes-some rejecting me- and this affected me to the point where I developed a short temper” explains Matange.

When she returned home following another stint with relatives, her stepfather could no longer afford to pay school fees for her and she went off and married her childhood sweetheart at the age of 17, hoping this would be her ticket to a better life, but misfortunes ensued.

“I got married at a young age thinking it would improve my life, but my husband passed away that same year and my anger at life escalated” says Matange.

Their young infant who was barely two years old also passed away the same year after a short illness.

Matange became confrontational with anyone who threatened her peace, and the worst incident resulted in a brief prison stint.

“I could not argue verbally, I would always break into a physical fight, I was even arrested once and served time at Chiburubi [maximum prison] for 4 months.

Local fitness coach Oliver Tobve witnessed Matange’s downward spiral and intervened by introducing her to bodybuilding as a way of channeling her anger elsewhere. With time, her anger began to subside as she focused her energy on competing.

Christina embraces Oliver Tobve at the gym he first taught her the art of bodybuilding.

Tobve affirms her change.

“Body building has moulded her (Matange) into a better person” he says.

Now, Matange’s older son Tafadzwa Maponga who is 15 years old has been chased from school because she was unable to pay school fees for him for the current term.

Despite all this, Maponga appreciates his mother’s efforts.

“I’ve watched my mother sacrifice all her bodybuilding winnings to take me to school. Sometimes she sells homemade soap to provide for us”, Maponga says

Maponga recently started his own bodybuilding journey with assistance from his mother and has taken particular interest towards boxing. Matange says this is a healthy alternative for her son, to steer him away from falling prey to one of two paths teenagers in their community succumb to, drugs and prostitution.