The Sunday Mail
REGINA JONGA has grown accustomed to weird stares, furtive glances and the accompanying murmurs in her daily encounters with people.
They reckon she does not look like a “normal” woman.
As if to buttress her failure to fit into the rigid typical identity of a woman, Jonga contends that she doesn’t have a single dress or skirt in her closet.
And while some women feel empty without handbags, the 42-year-old goes about business with a satchel strapped on her back.
“I don’t wear dresses because they don’t look good on me. I wear muscle tops (tank tops) and shorts, but that doesn’t make me less of a woman, does it? I am just a different kind of woman.
“To some people, I am a genetic freak… sometimes when I walk, I hear them saying “a woman should not look like a man”, but my question is who said muscles are for men only? What men can do, women can do also, including lifting weights,” she said.
Jonga oozes confidence when she speaks, a far cry from the wreck that she was when she walked into a gym in Mbare back in 2012.
An abusive marriage and subsequent divorce had left her down in the dumps.
Jonga had no confidence to speak of; her heart was broken into a million little pieces as she tried to process how love can sometimes be so sour and bitter.
Finding strength in iron
She needed some healing and after running from pillar to post in search of consolation, she finally decided that pumping iron in the gym would give her the soothing she needed.
While most women spend most of their time in the gym working on their cardio (through aerobics) and derrière (through squats), Jonga went straight for weights.
She wanted muscle!
“When I got into the gym at Matapi Flats in Mbare, all I wanted was something to occupy my mind with,” she revealed.
“The divorce had left me stressed and I thought that the gym would give me some comfort. When I walked in, everyone assumed that I would do the so-called ladies’ stuff, but I shocked them when I said I wanted to build some muscle.”
“I grew up watching a lot of WWF and WWE wrestling and had this fascination of looking like a wrestler. So being in the gym gave me a chance to build the muscle and I put all my effort into it. It was just for fun,” she said.
For Jonga, the pain of a broken and abusive marriage was her pre-workout as she harnessed it to bench press weights that some men can never dream of pumping.
The gains she made, without using any supplements, were outrageous and some close friends urged her to take a crack at the 2012 Novice competition.
She blew the competition out of the water and has been doing so with impressive regularity since then.
Today Jonga is rated among the best female body builders in the world, having secured her pro card — which marks the transition to professional bodybuilding — in China last week.
But Jonga doesn’t live in the gym, she spends time in a world that has long stereotyped women as people made for the kitchen and the bedroom.
Hers is a life of showing the world that masculinity can be as sexy as femininity.
“The knowledge that I attract attention everywhere I go pushes me into being a better person, it pushes me hard to show a patriarchal society that women can be whatever they want to be,” said Jonga.
Among the heads she turns wherever she goes are those of men who propose “love” to her because “they want to know how it feels to be intimate with a woman who has muscle”.
“It’s crazy,” said Jonga of the attention she gets from men.
“Some say they find me attractive and would like to be in relationships with me, but the fear of being beaten up by me scares them.
And how do fellow women view you?
“At first, they used to treat me like an outcast, they gave me those weird looks, but things are getting better now.
“They see me as one of them wherever I go, be it at church or at school meetings.
“Because of all these muscles, there are some people who expect me to be bossy and belligerent. Such people are surprised when they find out that Regina, for all her muscle, is as soft as wool.”
With her pro card in the bag and the support of her sponsors, Iron Lion Nutrition Supplements, Jonga is ready to take on the world, going shoulder to shoulder with the best in the business.
“It’s time to take aim for the stars now. My life has been one of fighting adversity. Very few people believed that a woman who started doing weights at 35 and worked as a maid in South Africa can be a pro (professional), but the Lord has been good to me.
“I feel like a Zimbabwean ambassador now, it’s no longer about Regina, but the mother land,” said Jonga.
Cornelius Joshua Rudziva, the Iron Lion Nutrition Supplements founder, believes Jonga is an inch closer to bringing a world championship title.
“Coming third in her pro-debut is no mean feat. Regina has what it takes to be a world champion and we will back her all the way, just like we did when she went to China last weekend.
“Away from the stage, we also want to use her story to inspire more women into taking up body building and make mockery of the long-held belief that pumping weights is for men,” said Rudziva.