If Luvo Manyonga can do it, so can you: This recovering ice addict from a poverty-stricken South African township just won a gold medal for long jump at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Now, his eyes are set on the world record.
South African long jumper Luvo Manyonga proudly claimed first place at Australia’s 2018 Commonwealth Games, leaping his way past Australia’s Henry Frayne and Cameroon’s Marcel Mayack to win the title. At just 27, Manyonga is currently the reigning champion – but he wasn’t always sitting on top of the world.
Luvo Manyonga’s journey to the gold is one of adversity, struggle, hard work and – ultimately – success. And it goes to show that even for those in the most unlikely circumstances, with determination and faith in the process, incredible life changes are possible.
Humble Beginnings and a Brush with Meth Addiction
Originally from South Africa’s deep south-west, Manyonga’s early life was less than ideal. His upbringing involved a fair share of poverty and dysfunction, with his father being mostly out of the picture, leaving his mother, a domestic laborer, to care for him and his siblings. It was during this time that he found an outlet on the track – and discovered his extraordinary talent.
In 2011, however, things took a turn for the worse. Manyonga tried ‘tik’ (a type of crystal meth commonly used in South Africa) for the first time, and it wasn’t long before it escalated into a full-blown addiction. In 2012, the emerging track star tested positive for methamphetamine – an episode that resulted in an 18-month suspension from competing.
Manyonga tried to get clean and attended a drug rehab programme in 2012, but that year saw another unfortunate twist of fate. His long-time coach and mentor Mario Smith died in a car accident, sending Manyonga into a downward spiral. He even reconnected with old using friends on the way to Smith’s funeral and missed the service in favour of using tik again. Things didn’t look good.
‘Anything Can Happen’ – Manyonga Overcomes Addiction and Attains His Wildest Dreams
Though tik addiction had its grip on him, Manyonga knew he wanted other things in life. With the help of addiction treatment, the support of his coaches and teammates and a renewed commitment to leaving his drug use behind and focusing all of his efforts on track, Manyonga began to turn things around. In 2015 under the direction of National Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam, he moved into the University of Pretoria‘s High Performance Centre and started training full-time. This time, he would exceed everyone’s expectations.
As a boon to his success, he stayed away from his old using circle: “I decided I can’t take it anymore in Cape Town because that is where I hook myself up with the devil.” A wise choice indeed.
His hard work paid off – in 2016, Manyonga won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, followed by this year’s Commonwealth gold.
Progress, Not Perfection: Manyonga’s Work Isn’t Done
Although he has plenty to celebrate, Mangoya is staying grounded and keeping his eyes on the prize. Just a week after winning the title, he’s right back to work: “It’s a medal in the bag, I’m just going to go home and start working again. It’s the same as a normal person going to the office: you just tick the box and go back home.”
And he has plenty of work ahead of him. Manyonga now wants to beat the world record, currently held by Mike Powell’s world record of 8.95 metres set in 1991 which, symbolically, is the year he was born.
Changing the Narrative: Manyonga Models the Power of Recovery for Athletes Everywhere
Manyonga’s win shone a light on the power of sobriety in Australia, a country riddled with ice addiction. And he’s not shy about spreading the word: “I just want to tell everyone who’s struggling with drug addiction or whatever, it doesn’t matter what addiction they have, just accept that you’re powerless over it, you have a problem. And ask for help,” he said.
In so many ways – his victory over his struggles, his hard-won achievements, but most importantly his attitude – Manyonga truly embodies what it means to be a winner.
If you’re struggling with addiction or behaviours that are stopping you from living your best life, take a note from Manyonga. Hope is far from lost.
Break the Ice – How Sport Can Help You Overcome Addiction
Manyonga came from a team environment, and he knew it would take a team to help him beat the hardest opponent of his life – his addiction. “Because when you’re in it, you think that you can beat it by yourself but it’s not easy like that,” he says. “You have to get a team, work with a team and be honest with yourself. It helped me, so I think everyone can get help from that.”
It’s no accident that Manyonga’s love of track helped him get his head back in the game. In fact, research has shown the benefits of sport for young people include improved self-esteem, relationships and ability to handle stress – all key ingredients for a thorough recovery.
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