On my stopover in Cape Town, en route to Thailand, I connected with powerhouse and fitness god, Mikhail Manewil. He radiates confidence, but that wasn’t always the case. Mikhail tells the story of a less-than-confident adolescent who re-engineered his body to develop his self-confidence through a wholesome lifestyle and workout plan. In addition to a rocking hard physique, Mikhail also has a charming presence that inspires hope in a world that still has mystery and beauty.
1998: Born in Cape Town
2016: Matriculated from JG Meiring High School
2017: Enrolled for Sports Psychology at UNISA
2017: Started modeling for Niku Underwear
What motto guides your attitude to life?
“They can knock you down, but as long as you can look up you can get up”. Never let troubles dictate what your life can be. Dig deep and visualize where you want to be because strength isn’t measured by how hard you can get hit, but by how hard you can get hit and still move forward.
You started working out in earnest at the end of matric. What inspired it?
I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted a change to experience what it feels like to have energy and power and be the best I can be. I also knew that I wanted to try it the natural way, setting my diet straight and designing a fitness programme that works for me. This experiment has changed my lifestyle and given me the confidence to show up and be counted.
You are studying Sports Psychology. Why that and not biokinetics or physiotherapy?
Even though I am interested in fitness I also want to study people’s behaviour to answer questions like, “what triggers aggression in rugby”, for example. I want to know what gives them the urge to run through someone else, what drives their aggression. I’ve been there myself and would like to understand that transformation. What fuels it? In my mind I need to protect my players, being on alert making sure the competition doesn’t come through me, and attack in line at the same time. There is a lot of strategic thinking understanding formations, velocity, and game theory. There are so many variables that come into play so Sports Psychology will help me understand the interplay between biochemistry, biokinetics and the psychology of things. More than this, my studies connect with not only my interest in physiology but also normal life and relationships.
Most matriculants these days want the full university experience. Why study through UNISA then?
Firstly, I hate the idea of having to attend lectures so distance-learning with UNISA offers me the chance to develop self-discipline since it’s all on me. I also want the freedom to work thereby becoming independent. I don’t simply want to be a student. When I matriculated I didn’t know myself and I feel studying by correspondence grants me more ‘me time’ to grow in self-knowledge. Of course attending a full-time university can offer you the experiences to grow but that wasn’t the path for me. Two years on I feel I know myself better but you are always on a journey into yourself.
What are the biggest influences that help you discover more of who you are?
I’ve been very vulnerable to life. I try to surround myself with people who want to be in my life and to support me. So studying at UNISA has helped me to ‘do me’ and wean myself from dependencies. Associate yourself with good people and mentors who understand you and are on your side. There was a time that I had loads of friends, but through various experiences, I now have true friends that have been tested by time. Discernment is key. I also try to be a positive influence and invest in those I care about.
I know you don’t call yourself a model, but how did you get into the world of fitness modeling?
I always wanted to be part of an agency. About three weeks ago Pierre Du Plessis (Manager) approached me and asked whether I would be interested in becoming an underwear/swimwear model. It wasn’t something I initially considered since I hardly felt I had the confidence to strut my stuff in next-to-nothing but I opened myself up to the experience. People may look at me and think: “how can you not have confidence?” There is one thing you need to understand, when you gym you never feel satisfied with your progress, regardless of your gains. However, I started modeling for Niku Underwear and with all the positive feedback I started believing that this is something I could be good at. I’m really enjoying my experience so far and it’s something that I can see myself doing for a long time. I am a really open person and that makes this kind of exposure a pleasure. I’ve been lucky to work with really professional people who dispel any anxieties you may have. I would also be keen on fashion/runway modeling and acting but haven’t signed up to any agencies yet since I’m focusing on Niku for the moment. I wouldn’t want to split my schedule too much at this stage since I’m just starting out.
Where do you imagine your modeling and study career to take you?
I just want to do things I love, whether it’s modeling or studies so that I can follow my dream to get myself out there. Before starting this modeling gig nobody knew my name or who I was. I want to open my life experiences through things that I am passionate about. My life, like everyone else, is a project under construction. I am playing with the idea of starting a fitness blog that can combine my modeling and Sport Psychology interests. It would be the ideal way to position my brand since I would most likely become my own business as a consultant. Working abroad is certainly something that I’m interested in so establishing my fitness brand is important. We have to celebrate our achievements right?
In a world so focused on appearances, how do you prevent yourself from becoming a slave to superficiality?
I was never based on appearances since I want to have meaningful encounters. I enjoy learning from others and that’s why you must surround yourself with people of substance. I try to cultivate mindfulness so that my life is anchored in the things that matter.
Why did you get into the Face of DDEM Competition?
The main guy inboxed me asking whether I would like to enter the competition. I didn’t really know what it was about but it sounded like something that could be fun. The contest, of course, has its own lifecycle but it’s a challenge that I embraced. There have been a number of clothing brands that messaged after seeing me on the DDEM social media platforms – this is a positive spinoff.
Tell us one thing that would surprise people about you?
Besides being a social butterfly and enjoying connecting with people, ensuring they are having fun, I can also sing. Until today even some of my extended family don’t know this about me. I sing jazz and blues and love playing instruments. I have a musical family – my dad has sung for the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Education. We also sing for church events. Music brings me joy so, for now, it’s something private to be shared with my family. However, modeling has helped me step out of myself so watch this space. My other talents may reach the public stage sooner than you think.
Connect with Mikhail:
Manager – Pierre du Plessis: firstname.lastname@example.org