THE high-flying heroics of a talented township gymnast who was crowned national double trampoline champion over the weekend is inspiring his friends to reach for the stars themselves.
While Siphamandla Baku made the long bus haul back to Port Alfred from Pretoria yesterday, his eager teammates at the award-winning Nemato Change a Life (NCL) youth programme were busy sweating it out in the bumpy backyard of their RDP matchbox clubhouse trying to copy their hero's gold-winning moves.
The daredevil 15-year-old backed up his surprise selection for the South African national gymnastics team two months ago for the world junior champs in Bulgaria next month by winning gold and silver in the under-16 age group.
Stunned NCL founder Jan Blom yesterday said he still could not believe Baku was the new SA champion.
"I can't find the words to say how proud I am of everything Siphamandla has achieved.
"He is our first South African champion and has also made the team for the junior world championships – without any proper training or equipment."
Although Baku has intensified his training since his selection for the national team, fears have been expressed that cash constraints may clip his wings when it comes to going to Europe – which will cost R30 000.
To date R6000 has been raised – and more pledged – to try to get him to Europe, but fundraising is going slowly as transport and accommodation costs getting the rising star from Port Alfred to Port Elizabeth every weekend for specialised training with renowned international coach Mandy Zoonekynd, is making things more difficult.
Spotted doing somersaults on the pavements of Port Alfred's Nelson Mandela township by Blom in 2009, Baku's rapid rise to the top has astounded even his mentor – who moved from the Netherlands to the seaside resort years ago to inspire local youth to use sport to realise their dreams
Practising hard on the mini trampoline yesterday, 14-year-old Phelo Dasa said even though he had taken up the sport less than a year ago, he had set his sights on becoming a national champion like Siphamandla has done.
"There are lots of gangsters where I live and I joined gymnastics to keep out of trouble. I want a good future and I think I can get it with gymnastics," the youngster said.
Besides being the NCL's biggest gymnastics star,Baku is also a Grade 1 qualified coach who spends hours after school coaching dozens of others to follow in his footsteps. Attempts to get comment from Baku – who was travelling back to Port Alfred by bus yesterday – proved fruitless.