When photographer Nikita Teryoshin was staying in Pretoria, South Africa, covering a defence fair (as part of his ongoing work), he headed to Airbnb’s website to see what he could “discover” in the area. Available for a mere 15 euros was a training session with the Boxing Grannies. Naturally, “I was very excited and booked directly on the first free day after arrival,” Nikita tells us. Equally as expected, “I also asked them via email if I could make a photo story about them,” a request which their PR manager (yes, that’s right) accepted.
The Boxing Grannies are a group of elderly women who meet twice a week, early in the morning, to take part in a free session of boxing in Cosmo City, a township next to Johannesburg. With no under 65s allowed, the oldest “gogo” (the Zulu word for grandmother) is 85 years old (and still ready to take on anything Tommy Fury thinks he can bring to the ring) and the group is largely made up of locals who are members of the community and attend Church together.
The group was started by award-winning trainer Called Claude Maphosa. “Some of the grannies used to play soccer, which was a bit too dangerous for them, because of the injuries,” Nikita tells us, before “they saw Mr Maphosa and his friends boxing at the gym.” One of the gogos approached Claude and asked if they could take part. “The normal box training would be way too hard and dangerous and so he invented a special programme for the grannies – a mix of boxing and fitness exercises. So the Boxing Grannies team started to grow fast.” Today, the group is 20-strong and is every bit as heartwarmingly-wonderful as it sounds.
On what specifically drew him to the Boxing Grannies, Nikita tells us: “First of all, I was really impressed by the strength of their community and the positive spirit of the grannies and the A-Team gym. I think they could be a perfect role model for old people all over the world. Instead of staying alone at home and fighting against diseases, they go out to stay active.” This, combined with seeing a chance to spread a positive message about South Africa among the onslaught of often negative news stories, made the Boxing Grannies the perfect subjects.
Grannies Strike Back as a series is full of joy. Action shots are positioned next to portraits of individuals and duos, strength, friendship and delight brimming out of every frame. “I wanted to get close, capturing the power of the grannies, nice punches, but also thoughtful moments like the prayer before the training and some nice details,” Nikita adds. On a particularly memorable moment from his time with the Boxing Grannies, Nikita says: “The most memorable picture is the one with the raw ginger and garlic dish (on the green plate), the coaches serve before the training called ‘ginger ninja’. Don’t try it at home!”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.