They cling childishly right up to the last moment, to any opportunity of delaying its commencement, after which they have to be responsible for themselves, not to mention those who will come later. Alas, inertness and passivity are the two scourges at the very core of Generation Next. We wonder, is it possible to learn determination, the ability to identify the correct motivation, and to develop a strong character and firmness of spirit? Who better to ask than a professional sportsperson about the iron strength of will? For the answers we turned to Sobir Dzhumaev, European Master of weightlifting and two-time World Champion in fitness. He’s a man Lev Gumilev would call a ‘passionary’ – that’s a ‘self-made man’ in contemporary culture.
Sobir is the living embodiment of the English proverb about a rolling stone gathering no moss, only he’s rolling in spite of the laws of physics – not down a mountainside uncontrollably but upwards, to its summit beyond the clouds. He is always on the move, living at the fifth cosmic velocity (forget the third!) and to pin him down for a prolonged philosophical conversation is not only difficult – it’s nigh on impossible. You have to adapt to his rhythm, flying closely beside him. That’s when you get to witness his arresting charisma and leadership skills and his ability to infect everyone around him with his brand of an active lifestyle, carrying them away with his personal example.
He’s 35 but looks much older, partly owing to his Eastern features, but to a greater extent because of his demeanour – he is deep, calm, at ease and possesses an amazing wisdom – it seems as if he knows things about you that not even a dozen therapists could dig up. We sit in the sports bar of his fitness centre, his mobile phone ringing and clients and colleagues bothering him every minute. But the flow of information never ceases, not even for an instant, as he successfully manages to occupy several chronotopes at once, all the while not losing the thread of conversation.
Sobir, why sport? Did you consider any other career paths?
Probably not. It’s been there right in front of me since childhood. My father is a free-style wrestling coach, and I, as far as I can recall, always dreamed of doing sport. I even had the right physique for it: broad shoulders, a stocky frame and strong calves. I started weight lifting seriously in fifth grade, winning many competitions on a national level. I became a Candidate for Master of Sport at 16, then Master of Sport and champion of Central Asia.
When the question arose about what to do after finishing school, did you have to think about it for long?
I first enrolled in the theatre institute and studied there a year, but then I went to the institute of physical culture. It wasn’t easy; it was 1992, perestroika, and Tajikistan had it particularly bad – several years of civil war, economic collapse. I had to work nights to support myself, pay for my studies and help my parents, and I studied during the day. I graduated from the institute, started working as a coach for a children’s sports group, then I moved to Moscow. I took a course from the Association of Fitness Professionals and became a gym trainer.
Coaching is quite different in nature to a sports career – did you have to fundamentally change in any way, or break certain habits in order to become a coach?
Actually, the difference isn’t as fundamental as it would seem at first glance. It’s the opposite even – coaching and individual championship training compliment each other perfectly I find, speaking from my personal experience. I became a coach at 24, and since then it’s been my basic profession but at the same time, I also developed as a sportsman, competed in different competitions and wasn’t satisfied until I had achieved the goal that I had set for myself – to win the champion’s title. Before I had won my first World Championship for fitness, I had travelled for eight years to many competitions, taking third place or second place, until I finally became the absolute champion. And then I did it again a second time [laughs]. And all the while I continued coaching people and passing on my professional experience to my colleagues. Many of my clients, by the way, have themselves become instructors, and I always helped them, tutored them, set up their first lessons, and later recommended them to fitness centres. If a person is genuinely interested, they will always find opportunities and support here.
A young woman named Yuliya comes along, whom Sobir introduces as his pupil and an instructor in Tae-Bo and strength training. During the course of the conversation, it emerges that a few years ago she became a mum and came for fitness training to get back into shape after giving birth. In one year she lost 15 kilos and thanks to a certain favourite trainer of hers, was so inspired that she soon was able to put two diplomas of higher education on the mantle piece, leave her office job and train as an instructor, now she practically lives at the centre. Colleagues joke that her husband will soon kick her out but she has a dream – to win the big Tae-Bo tournament – a goal towards which she is persistently striving, through all the pain and inevitable injuries, inspired by the example set by her teacher. Listening to Yuliya, I notice how similarly the fire burns in her and Sobir’s eyes, and what pride is discernible in the gaze of her ‘sensei’ – as his clients jokingly refer to him – when his pupil speaks of her successes and, with gratitude, recalls his support. It becomes clear why the best fitness centres in Moscow are all fighting to entice him to work for them –all clients flock to him and will travel to any end of the city to attend any class in the programme with his name.
Sobir, in any business whenever someone achieves great success is there a danger of sinking into arrogance or conceitedness? Is there any defence against ‘superstar syndrome’? Has anything like this afflicted you?
It all depends on the person. You can shine on completely level ground for no reason whatsoever. Since my first big victory – at the European championship – my self-regard has grown as well as my self-esteem. I took pride in the fact that I was able to do it. There are many people who, in a competition, break down when they see 300 pumped rivals. They lose faith and don’t win. I have never given up – I always knew, that sooner or later I would get it. You need only to believe in yourself and be persistent in improving yourself.
Sobir runs off to give a personal training session but I stay and sit with a colleague of his, Natalya, who is a children’s group training instructor, and we speak for a long time about the importance of children being inspired from early age by a good example. She said that when Sobir trains children he knows how to find the right approach for each child. As a result, they are crazy about him and completely at ease with him, and he has their full trust. Her teenage daughter sits at the neighbouring table. She’s a lovely, blue-eyed little darling, with a fluffy headful of white-blond ringlets, in a pink t-shirt carrying a hot fuchsia pink phone. But in half an hour this angel is furiously thrashing her fists in Tae-Bo, reproducing even the most complex moves that Sobir is demonstrating, with such accurate precision that my mind is put at rest regarding the fate of young people. This fire in her eyes – that was ignited by our sensei and all the other senseis: his pupils and followers and those simply cut from the same cloth – will not be extinguished by any zombie craze, video game, social network, or comfy couch. Short-term ‘clipped’ thinking, to use Mikhail Kazinik’s term, comes easily to young minds through associative thinking – you only need to provide the impetus. Sobir’s pupils start to make a breakthrough the moment they open his favourite book – The Rubais of Omar Khayyam – and next comes inquisitiveness, activeness, the thirst for knowledge and industry and it begins to grow like a geometric progression.
Photo: From the Archive of Sobir Dzhumaev