How Hilda turned her grief into something positive

Hilda Kivowere. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Exploring fitness training, Hilda hints that it is still a foreign concept in Tanzania. One that circles around the misconception that a trainer has to be muscular or that some exercises are specifically for women or men.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! This is both a life mantra and a proverb that seems to have encouraged Hilda Kiwovere, a Dar-es Salaam-based personal trainer to be who she currently is.

Her fitness journey started in 2018, shortly after she lost her mother. Her father died years earlier and Hilda was left with only her younger brother.

A university student at the time, Hilda got depressed and did not know how to go about life because the one person she loved dearly was gone. This was the case until she started exercising. While she still felt alone and heartbroken, Hilda began exploring and browsing about fitness on YouTube hoping it would uplift her self-esteem and energy.

There were times when a wave of sadness would hit her hard reminding her of her loss. At such times Hilda would cling to the positive wall that she had started building; exercising.

“I never told anyone about the struggles I was going through. Mental health is a foreign concept in Tanzanian societies and I feared being misunderstood by people. When my friends noticed there was something bothering me, I used to tell them I wasn’t okay but that I was working on getting better. My friends used to exercise after classes so I decided to join them.”

These efforts cleared Hilda’s pathway towards becoming a personal trainer, a career path she never thought she would take. “Never in my life did I think I would be a trainer. I wanted to become a social worker and when that ship sailed, I wanted to become an air hostess. As I was making plans to pursue the cabin crew training, I changed my plans and decided to focus on fitness,” says Hilda, who works at The Workout Zone in Masaki.

In late 2018, Hilda met Prosperius Mpete, a fitness guru and founder of Nubundu Africa, a fitness and wellness platform based in Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam. The two met at Prosperius’ boot camp and it was at this moment that Hilda’s life turned around.

“This was my first time to attend a boot camp and I had never felt so alive. At the end of the session, I approached Prosperius and asked her questions about fitness and we connected right away.”

“In early 2019, she started mentoring me. Under her guidance, I learned about the ins and outs of fitness. After a while, Prosperius started entrusting me with her clients. She started assigning me small challenges that kept sharpening my skills.”

Hilda’s first time training a client felt different than when she was exercising with other people at the boot camps and even with Prosperius. She details the feeling as having been ‘lively’.

“It felt good to have clients under my wing. Some of the clients knew it was my first time training them and some did not. However, they all equally accepted me to be part of their training journeys.”

Hilda says training has made her more confident, consistent and disciplined. “It has been a humbling journey, one that started off as an escape mechanism from the harsh reality of losing my mother.

This career has not only made me financially independent but also through it, I have become fit both physically and mentally. It has made me understand the importance of getting out of one’s comfort zone. It has made me network with people from diverse backgrounds and occupations, all with a similar goal; to become fit,” Hilda explains.

Exploring fitness training, Hilda hints that it is still a foreign concept in Tanzania. One that circles around the misconception that a trainer has to be muscular or that some exercises are specifically for women or men.

“When I started introducing myself as a fitness trainer, some people asked me how come I was not muscular.

I remember when I began creating content during my own sessions, especially when I started lifting weights, I started receiving backlash from people whose perspectives were centred on the idea that ‘weight lifting is not for women. But that did not stop me because I understand that fitness is beyond physical training. It starts with mindset transformation followed by physical changes.”

Saldin Kimangale, a clinical psychologist, says Hilda’s choice to use fitness training as an escape mechanism from the life realities is the best decision a person can make for themselves.

“When people experience mental states such as bipolar, depression or when they have anger issues, training can be the perfect escape for them. While it does not make the situation go entirely away, it stimulates the mind to perceive such situations differently. In Hilda’s case, she was producing a lot of chemicals due to depression. Training made her release those chemicals through bodily movements and this made her feel better over time,” he explains.

The psychologist unfolds that depression makes people forget their behaviours as their minds adapt new ones. F

or instance when a person is depressed, they start sleeping more than usual, an angered person cries a lot, a bipolar person would scream or make noise. When people in such states start exercising, they activate the behaviours they experienced before the situations through bodily movements. This is because exercise is a treatment for both the body and mind.

Being among the people who paved the way for Hilda’s journey in fitness training, Prosperius hints that she was interested in Hilda due to the character she showed during the boot camp sessions.

“I met her in 2018 when I organised an end of the year boot camp. Hilda arrived at the venue earlier than everyone else including myself. She was always punctual at all the boot camps that followed. She was focused, she asked questions related to training and this caught my eye. I wanted her to become my mentee after the boot camps ended.” Prosperius describes Hilda as hardworking and as someone who works for the things that she wants, no matter how long it takes.

One of Hilda’s clients, Mboni Bingo, who has worked with the trainer for three months describes Hilda as an encouraging trainer who has so far helped her to be at her best mentally and physically.

“I started training with her in April. Hilda is encouraging and patient with clients and I like how she gives candid feedback whenever she deems fit,” Mboni says.

Juliana Mwapachu, a longtime client who has seen Hilda in her earliest days of her career, describes the trainer as inspirational. “I started working out with Hilda in 2019. I had just given birth to my second child and had gained a lot of weight. Within the first month, I managed to lose about four kilogrammes. Hilda simplifies all the ‘difficult exercises’ for clients. Hilda always says it starts with the mind and that when you trigger it the way you want, you can do anything you want.”

Juliana says clients consider Hilda as family. “She connects with clients even outside the gym. When I lost my father for example, she was there throughout the funeral. On my mother’s birthday, she brought in flowers at home to celebrate the day with us and this is truly heartening.”

Hilda plans to start her own fitness and health centre that will focus on assisting individuals to reach their health goals, both mentally and physically.

“One of my goals is to one day create a health space for both women and men to chase their health goals. This centre will have psychologists, nutritionists and fitness trainers with the same goal of helping people to lead healthy lives,” she discloses.