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Mariam Manack

Founder and Director of ITRAIN

Mariam Manack is the founder and director of ITRAIN, a movement that empowers women through physical fitness and strength. She has been a personal trainer since 2012 and in that time has educated and encouraged many hundreds of women to improve their health and fitness.

Mariam’s success has been recognised on various platforms. In 2017, she was recognised by the Minara Chamber of Commerce as the youngest Muslim woman to receive a finalist award at the Business Recognition Awards and the Minara Entrepreneurship Competition. Mariam was listed as one of Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 in 2019. She is also a brand ambassador for Puma.

Feeling empowered
Mariam’s enthusiasm for fitness and sport was present from an early age and stemmed from her parents’ encouragement. She was inspired to participate in sports by her father who was disabled. Mariam explains, “He used fitness and sport to empower himself and to assist in disregarding his disability and to build strength. I was totally motivated by his example.” She added that she enjoyed the euphoria that she experienced after a sports activity and celebrated every step as a great accomplishment.

However, Mariam explained that as a young person you don’t question your thoughts. Realising that health and fitness allowed her to feel empowered and that this strength gave her purpose, took some time. She then decided that health was not negotiable and that she would love to empower other people through fitness. Consequently, Mariam completed a Bachelor in Sports Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2010. She was one of only three Indian girls and one of only two Muslims in her year.

Laying the foundations
Mariam says that her career of choice was not something approved upon by her community. She commented, ‘I did not have a lot of encouragement or support when I started my business. I had no money and no fixed location. Other than leaving South Africa, my scope was very minimal.” However, Mariam was determined to get into the industry and started by training clients at home, without any equipment, just using her voice and her gift.

She said, “I went on this journey through my 20s and I like to call it my journey of resilience, ambition and passion. I was at the bottom end of my pyramid, laying the foundations and digging deep into what I enjoy while climbing the ladder as every year went by. I had to stay in my own lane, carve my way and figure things out. As with any entrepreneur, your experiences build you and that’s the way to get to the top of your pyramid.”

Soon her clientele grew, and she founded ITRAIN, a health and fitness studio for women, based in Westville, KwaZulu-Natal, which has become a hub for women’s empowerment and fitness. The studio is very private, and community based with a strong ethos of caring for others. The ITRAIN approach is holistic and tailored to each individual encompassing personal coaching, and a training and eating plan, that provide the support with which people resonate. ITRAIN fitness Signature workouts follow specific body types in relation to age. This accommodates for each member based on their age, fitness level and goals.

“ITRAIN focuses on women who strive to feel valued as human beings. People often suffer from low esteem and lack confidence which we can help change. I always look forward to each day and the potential to transform people and their lives,” says Mariam.

Developing a team
Initially, Mariam micromanaged all aspects of the business but that meant being restricted to one location and a limited number of clients. In 2019, an unplanned pregnancy was the motivation that Mariam required to grow her business. She said that she realised that she was going to need support to manage her business and to meet the needs of a child and family. “I developed a team, which was very empowering for me as an individual to know that I was not just keeping my strengths to myself but that I had a responsibility to equip more individuals to grow in to the space that I had filled.” At that time Mariam scaled her team to ten individuals.

The Covid pandemic initially caused much concern for Mariam as to how the business was going to survive. Fortunately, the pandemic also sparked more interest in people looking for hope and the need to experience empowerment. This interest in fitness has allowed Mariam to open a second gym, with a third gym to be opened soon in Umhlanga. A running club has also been launched as part of the fitness offering.

In addition, the emergence of the digital space has allowed classes to be offered virtually. She says, “I believe that I have a purpose and a role to play in empowering those around me and intend to gain knowledge and enhance my systems so that I can share my knowledge further.” Currently, the online store includes vitamins, apparel, and branded diet plans.

A one stop brand
In the future Mariam’s goals are to strive to ensure that ITRAIN is recognised as a one stop brand for health and wellness in South Africa and in the world. In giving advice to others, Mariam says that you should, “Choose what you really love doing and that you are passionate about. As long as you love your career then it’s not called work. When you enjoy what you are doing, your joy becomes contagious and motivates other people. I intend to keep doing what I do but will innovate and evolve.”

She concluded, “I have changed many women and their lives have changed for the better as a result. I have a goal to make a million women feel more confident and stronger through the ITRAIN platform.”

Mariam Manack