Sheer chance led Evelyne Okinyi Owala to bodybuilding.
The former banker is now winning global awards. She reveals why she is in love with her career despite the odds.
I am standing at a close distance as I watch her train. Make-up on, long eyelashes, red lipstick, and a trendy box braid hairstyle.
"This is my job; I have to look good at it," she tells me as we sit at a cafe two floors down from the gym.
Evelyne, 39, is a bodybuilder and has been training professionally since 2015. She likes her body sculptured and is on a journey to help other people transform. "I am still trying to figure out a good make-up regime," she tells me.
"When engaging in a conversation, I get questions like, 'You were a banker, why did you get into bodybuilding?'
Most people think that I had a well laid out plan. That I probably saved up for months and had an exit plan. However, it did not happen like that. This happened by chance."
Evelyne had resigned from her banking job where she held a managerial position. With part of her savings (Sh400,000), she decided to sell gym merchandise.
"I was not new to the hustle. While working at the bank, I still sold the stuff albeit seasonally. I had a friend that would get me the items whenever he travelled. This time, he did not. He conned me," she offers.
"I had just lost a job and now money!"
To wade off that stress and keep herself engaged, Everlyne started spending more time in the gym.
She loves exercising and even frequented the gym as she climbed her career ladder. She is also a trained teacher and has in the past taught in two different high schools.
"I love exercising; it is therapeutic and relaxing," Evelyne, who also took a course in fitness while at college, says.
"While at the gym, I would see people struggle or train the wrong way and would offer to help. Towards the end of 2015, I thought to myself, ‘How about I focus on one person and see if they transform?'
I approached one of the women at the gym and she agreed to be my trainee. At the end of the fourth month, she had shed some kilos and she was so happy with the results that she referred three of her colleagues to me.
That started my journey as a fitness trainer. The numbers kept growing. The following year, I founded Eveal Health and Fitness.
I have a team that I work with to train people in various gyms," she says.
She adds that one of the biggest mistakes that women make is exercising without watching what they eat. "I try as much as I can to cut off junk and wheat from my diet," she notes.
Her passion for exercise and healthy eating has paid off. Last month, she was awarded the Women bodybuilding championship 2019 title in an event organised by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) in Angola.
Two months prior, she had scooped two awards during the annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival held in South Africa.
"When I jetted back into the country, I was recognised by the Sports Cabinet Secretary. This is a true testimony of the growth in the industry."
On a typical day, she will be up by 4am and see her first client at 6am and the last at 8pm.
"My days are quite busy. I sometimes wish that my hairdresser could work on my hair while on the go!" she chuckles.
"However, I have a great support system. My husband accompanies me to every competition. And he really loves my body! When my muscles are out, he takes countless photos and on a normal day gushes, 'You can't go out looking that good without me.'
When I returned from Angola, my father travelled from the village the next day to congratulate me."
Her father, a pastor, was not at first taken by her new career, she admits. "I saw you on paper, naked!" he would admonish.
"Now he is very proud of me. He keeps newspapers that have photos of me and shows them to all and sundry."
The bodybuilding industry is testosterone-charged. However, there is an increase of more women. The industry now manages to send at least 20 female bodybuilders to various championships.
Still, the streets are yet to accept a muscled woman. "A woman with muscles! Why? I don't like muscled women."
"It's something I am used to hearing," Evelyne says.
"One of my friends made a joke sometime back and said that there is a difference between a butt and a buttock. The former is what we naturally have but for you to get a buttock, and a toned one for that matter, you have to eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise and burn the fat," she shares amid hearty laughter.
She is presently training for an upcoming championship and loves her body, most when ‘in season' or rather when she is all muscled up.
"I feel stronger than the average woman. How I wish institutions were willing to sponsor bodybuilders for championships as money is quite an obstacle," she says.