A difficult upbringing didn’t deter Bjorn Alexander from realising his dream – inspiring young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to rise above their circumstances and flourish.
Raised in the ghetto-like environment of Paarl East, by a single mother, Bjorn is now living the life of which, by his own admission, he could only dream.
A talented runner – he has represented Boland, Western Province and South Africa in duathlon – Bjorn started running cross country in Grade 8, and despite his mother’s constant discouragement he persevered.
“I started running to escape,” he says. “Now I run to inspire hope in young people. If these kids can get a little bit of hope, it will change not only their world, but the world of generations to come.”
The first person in his family to matriculate, Bjorn was fortunate enough to be granted a full scholarship to study full-time at the Cape University of Technology (CPUT), and despite his parents discouraging him, suggesting he should instead set up a fruit stall, he took advantage of the offer and studied. He graduated from CPUT in 2005 with a degree in sports management.
He married Ingrid, who he met at a time of great difficulty in his life, and after they returned from a period of time living and working in London, Bjorn worked as a personal trainer at a gym.
“I realised I wanted to do something to change the world, to enrich the lives of people within my sphere of influence, by helping to shape the culture of those groups and our community,” he explains.
His desire to help young people from backgrounds like his own eventually prompted him to start working with Paarl-based NGO Hilltop Legacy.
“I initially worked as a personal trainer at the gym for three days a week, and devoted the other two days to mentoring and coaching school children, but on June 1, I joined Hilltop Legacy full-time,” he says, adding that he works with children from Paarl East, and in particular, with a group of children from Groenheuwel Primary, through his “I Coach Bjorn” initiative, which encourages young people to follow their dreams.
Although the programme is centred in Paarl East, Bjorn and Hilltop Legacy have plans to take it to schools nation-wide.
Bjorn lives in Paarl with Ingrid and their children, three-year-old Zion and nine-month old Eva.
“My dream for these kids is more than perhaps qualifying for a provincial team. My dream is for them to be great husbands and great wives, because that makes for strong families, and that’s what we need to make a strong country.”
Bjorn travels to Berlin in September to take part in the Berlin Marathon, as an awareness and fund- raising vehicle for the work he is doing at Hilltop Legacy.
“We can actually help people to excel and achieve success, when we come together to make a difference,” he says. “That’s why we want companies, schools and people to partner with us in changing the lives of people by inspiring hope.”
* For more information on Hilltop Legacy and the “I Coach Bjorn” initiative, contact them at 078 717 0002 or firstname.lastname@example.org