Despite numerous challenges, Max Kulati found the motivation to pursue his dreams. Mariska Morris reports
It all started when Macethandile (Max) Kulati looked in the mirror one day and thought to himself: I’m too skinny. So, he started small. He trained with a mere two-kilogram dumb bell set in his bedroom. When he started seeing results, Max upgraded to heavier weights. Finally, he joined a gym to improve even further.
Only a mere four years after becoming a wheelchair user, in 2018, Max started powerlifting. In 2019, he met a professional bodybuilder who inspired and encouraged Max to try the sport. In 2021, he participated in his first International Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (IBFF) event and fell even further in love with the sport.
At the start of 2022, Max officially resigned from powerlifting to focus all his attention on bodybuilding. Today, the self-proclaimed gym- aholic is a body builder looking to compete internationally this year.
While he remains passionate about both sports, there are weight restrictions in powerlifting that present a challenge when trying to build muscle and improve definition for bodybuilding competitions. By focusing on only one, Max can build a better physique. He notes: “I don’t think of myself as strong, but I like my physique. But, I want more. That is the thing about bodybuilding. The more you have, the more you want.”
Max aspires to be a professional bodybuilder. As he explains: “There are no pro bodybuilders in wheelchairs.” He would like to represent South Africa and wheelchair users at international competitions. This will undoubtedly take a lot of hard work and dedication. Fortunately, Max has a passion for fitness and weight training. In fact, Max conducted his interview from the gym!
“The gym is my second church after church,” he says jokingly. “I’m obsessed with weights. The gym is my comfort zone – a place for me to clear my mind.” Max has had to deal with a lot – frankly he still does! Single father of three and currently unemployed, Max had to come to terms with his disability, find the motivation to carry on while providing for his family.
As he grows too old for most learnerships, Max is dependent on his disability grant to care for his family. Despite qualifications in public administration, he has been unable to find permanent employment. But, exercise helps. “ Without it, Max argues that he might have been depressed … or worse.
Understanding how difficult it can be to find strength, Max hopes to inspire everyone – those with disabilities or without, young or old. Specifically, he wants to inspire the youth in his community who are at risk of drug abuse. Max says: “I want to inspire everyone so that when they look at me, they think: ‘If he can do it, so can I.’”
His life’s motto is: “Against all odds, I can do it.” And he does! Max faces daily challenges like accessing his inaccessible gym. But he makes a plan. Something that has motivated and inspired many of the other members at the gym. “The girls and guys who I train with motivate me and I motivate them,” he says.
Max urges his peers who are also facing big obstacles to find the motivation within themselves to keep going: “I know it is hard, but you need to now assess your situation and build on it. It is not the end of the world.
“You are still the same person who you were before. Pick yourself up. I know that it is hard, but accept it. You need to motivate yourself to motivate others.”
While Max is passionate about bodybuilding, he faces many challenges within the sport – most noticeably, the lack of funding. This issues extends to many of the talented bodybuilders in South Africa.
As it isn’t recognised as a sport by the South African government, there is little funding available from the public sector. So, athletes need to source their own funding.
Max has been invited to compete in Slovenia on June 4, 2022. But, he has been unable to secure financial support to participate. While he wanted to give up, Max lives by a different motto.
Instead, he is pleading to the public to assist with whatever donation is possible. Max thanks the team assisting him to arrange the trip to Slovenia, including Arnold Johannes, Maureen Pullen and Elvida Klue. In the meantime, he continues to gym, to build, to motivate and inspire.