Toyota Fortuner Challenge: Our envoy is a hero that knows adversity
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By: John Makoni
Johannesburg - Meet Justin Maguire, IOL’s envoy for this year’s Toyota Fortuner Challenge. A renowned fitness icon, Justin is fired by the potential of integrated medicine to help us stay in our physical best shape. He also breathes a philosophy based on lived experience, one that showcases the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity even in the most unlikely of cases.
“It definitely was a long walk to freedom for me like that of Nelson Mandela,” he says as he prepares for the famous Challenge. And as one might expect of someone equally selfless in his outlook, success in the Toyota Fortuner Challenge would provide just the right stepping stone to empower those less fortunate like himself. He would like the success to translate into investment in his favourite integrated medicine field, via his charity Amack, specifically to benefit four youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds it has adopted, who will have the privilege to study either alternative or mainstream medicine.
Indeed, it has been an extraordinary journey for the never-say-die fitness fanatic who easily could have ruled himself out when things were tough but was just lucky to turn away from a teenage life of gangsterism and drugs. One is inclined to agree when he describes himself as a “repurposed human being” who re-discovered a purpose in life through Christ.
Now at the helm of Autonomic Coaching, he employs his multidisciplinary knowledge from years of study and observation to change lives locally and overseas. For instance, in the past two years, Autonomic Coaching has equipped hundreds of participants with the wherewithal to take on the best challenges in competitive sporting and select professions. With his background of training ranging from performance conditioning, fitness therapy, nutrition, blood chemistry to muscle energy technique, to cite only some, Justin has assisted over 500 individuals from eight countries, including Australia, Canada and England, to achieve their life goals. It’s a jaw-dropping roll call of top athletes and entertainers, of whom the latter include Andy Bell of 1990s English pop duo Erasure and British actor Sam Hazeldine, known for his roles in the popular Transporter action series.
And then on to the sporting luminaries, and you will find the likes of Pradeep Bala, whom Justin mentored for the 2014 World Natural Bodybuilding Championships, Venezuelan Sandy Cuitto (third in Fitness Modelling World Championships), Tommy “Tommy Gun” Owen (Nabba Fitness Modelling), top-ranked UFC fighter Australian-Samoan Tai ‘Bam Bam’ Tuivasu, English footballing stalwart Jermaine Defoe and Canadian bodybuilder Ben Pakulsi, to name only a few.
The most astonishing aspect of the effervescent 35-year-old’s life thus far is not his bouncing back and re-routing from the road of youthful perdition, however. It perhaps is his recovery from autoimmune disease, normally a veritable death knell for many a hopeful and bright upstart, following diagnosis with Polymyalgia Rheumatica. “Two years ago, I found it difficult to articulate a sentence,” he says. He couldn’t walk, had difficulty breathing and could not sleep for days on end.
To add insult to injury, the diagnosis coincided with a moment when Justin was all pumped up and ready to throw himself in the ring for the Arnold Classic Africa. What initially appeared as bronchitis put paid to that; the more severe condition was confirmed only later.
An empathetic side that exudes the philosophy that life is not worth living if not for others is just what makes Justin so inspiring. Autonomic Coaching is driven by that zest – to make a difference and change lives. It is this spirit that Justin will be taking into the Toyota Fortuner Challenge.
His desire to raise public awareness on integrated medicine has become the focal point of that belief system, bearing in mind that knowledge generation is a No. 1 priority for a coach who attributes his “re-emergence” to his faith in Christ, which he credits for helping resolve his self-doubt and self-questioning.
Justin is grateful to especially four influential people for helping him get back on his feet. These include his mother, who helped in his self re-discovery when he moved in back with her at age 31 after his marriage faltered. “Mothers are the portals that bring the souls to this world,” he says.
The others are Dr Shahista Khan and Dr Ahmed Hafijee, who have overseen his recovery and return to full health, and Sonia Buckland “the glue that held the business together” when Justin was fighting auto-immune disease and barely able to breathe.
Asked about South Africa’s dubious distinction as the country with the world’s highest incidence of so-called diseases of lifestyle (such as hypertension, diabetes and heart diseases), Justin blames it on a “cultural misalignment” that can only be corrected through better public education through the education system. He advocates a renewed culture, based on care through meditation and gratitude. If people became more empathetic then a competitive understanding would counter the competitive ideology inimical to empathy. That would mean being “excessively competitive to be empathetic,” he says, exhorting his Zen Buddhism. “I am a Christian Buddhist”, he chuckles.
“I try to have gratitude. By no means do I feel like an icon. I do believe there’s more room for improvement,” says the Autonomic coach, a bibliophile, who also loves teaching about integrated medicine, and whose other pastimes are tree-planting and drawing.
Don’t miss our hero behind the hero next Thursday.