She’s on track for her doctorate in statistics at Rhodes University, has just run the Two Oceans half-marathon in Cape Town before catching her first students’ graduation ceremonies in Grahamstown, plus she is expanding her mother’s rapidly growing fruit and vegetable distribution business in Port Elizabeth.
Rhodes University statistics lecturer Thina Maqubela, 27, crams a lot into her active life and says much of her energy is due to healthy eating and her early morning running team, dubbed #Team5AM.
The Herald highlighted Maqubela’s #Team5AM in last week’s SPAR Women’s Challenge supplement, but their story is so much more than a snippet.
“We are more than a running group – we share meals, opportunities, do writing sessions together [four of us are PhD candidates] and a whole lot more!” Maqubela says. And the group are setting the pace with two others in the #Team5AM – Muthumuni Managa and Noncedo Reme-Mnandi – also completing the Two Oceans.
It’s a far cry from when Maqubela started lecturing in Grahamstown in January 2014.
“Giving my new job my full attention while balancing a PhD meant long hours at the office, resulting in not watching my eating habits,” Maqubela says.
“Grahamstown is a small town and most fast food restaurants offer free delivery. This meant I had easy access to fast food and by the end of the year I had picked up a lot of weight.”
During the December holidays, she decided to change her lifestyle with exercise and healthy eating.
“I started with doing walks of about 5km a day at home with my little sister and a friend. We would walk the streets of Motherwell and enjoy ourselves, regardless of the stares.”
Back at work in the City of Saints, she continued her walks and started jogging, until she “fell off the wagon” in winter 2015. Then came a chance meeting last year with Akhona Ngcauzela while running.
“He asked me to join him and I was a bit skeptical as he didn’t look like he was going for a run. I refused and to my surprise I met him again along my route running with another lady.”
That was the birth of #Team5am.
“Akhona and myself started recruiting other runners to join us.
“The group now has 15 members and we meet daily at 5am to run around the streets of Grahamstown. All of us are novice runners, mostly running to keep fit or shed extra weight.
“We start our days together and have had so much impact on each others lives as we run, share meals and also talk about our different careers.
“Our group ranges from students at Rhodes, academics, professionals, and also community members.
“I started off running because I wanted to shed extra weight but the sport has given me much more. Starting as a walker who could barely run 1km without stopping, I am now doing 10km, 15km, 21km and 42.2km races.”
Fitness and a 15kg weight-loss are not the only positive spin-offs: her new lifestyle has also given wings to a family business venture called Maqubs Fruit and Veggies.
You can’t out-run a bad diet
“I learnt through my journey you can’t out-run a bad diet,” she says.
“Maqubs is a fruit and veggie delivery business that is an adaptation to a family business that has been in my family as my mom is a street vendor.
“After struggling to get affordable, quality fruits and veggies during my journey, I thought this would be great to help make the journey of others easier. We now deliver in Grahamstown and also Port Elizabeth, with more than 60 households on our database.
“I now mostly eat fruits and veggies, protein and also run. I cut back on starch, sugar and junk food but I do sometimes eat these when I feel like it. I still enjoy ice-cream when I want to but I prefer making my own at home with fruits and veggies from Maqubs.”
The early morning camaraderie has impressed others also.
“I’ve gained a family through #team5am and my journey has inspired a lot of people.
“More than the numbers, I am now fresh and always start my day with a big smile. My students often ask me why am I always happy: it is the running and fruits and veggies from Maqubs!”