Jordan Hess (16) is proud to show off his well-toned physique but it took hours of daily exercise and diet, including a healthy dose of self-love to transform this shy, overweight and bullied boy into a confident young person.
Jordan was born in Cape Town and spent his formative years living with his younger sister, mother and father in Mitchells Plain. Both parents worked full-time. His father ran his own maintenance business.
“I can remember a game my sister and I used to play when our father arrived from night shifts. We would hide and then jump onto him when he came inside the house. He was a family man.”
His father was popular and well known in the neighbourhood.
“If you asked around, everyone knew Clinton Hess. When you walked to school, cars would hoot and the person inside would ask if I’m Chingy’s (his father’s nickname) child - but in a good way.”
Jordan’s life as he knew it was turned upside down when he was in Grade 4. He remembers almost all of the details the night everything changed.
“I was 10 years old and it was the annual *Toy Run motorcycle rally. After the Toy Run we went to a bikers only bar. It was me, my sister, my two cousins and my mom and dad.
“By the time my mom wanted to go home, my dad still wanted to stay. I was driving the whole day with him on the bike, so I didn’t want to go with my mom. I cried that I wanted to stay with him but he told me no. His last words to me were, ‘do you trust me?’ And then my mom grabbed me, said ‘no he can not go with you’ and then we left the bar.”
The family did not go straight home. Instead, they went to Jordan’s aunt’s house.
“Two hours after we left the bar, the hospital phoned my mom on her cellphone. My mom shouted on the phone, ‘Clinton’s at the hospital because he’s stupid!’ We didn’t think much of it, we just thought he hurt his leg. She started shouting and crying, ‘he’s stupid, I told him he shouldn’t have gotten on the bike!’”
“I didn’t know how to feel, I didn’t understand. My mom told me and my sister to stay there, and then my mom and uncle got into the car and left. My dad’s sister started panicking and crying and that made me and my sister worry a lot. But we were too afraid to ask. We had never seen my aunty crying like that, ever. We waited awhile, then my other aunty (mom’s sister) picked us up, which was unusual because she was never around in that specific area and then we went to my grandpa’s house.
“As we pulled into the road, we saw the road full of motorbikes and cars and their friends and family were standing in front of the house. As we walked in, we felt the sorrow of everyone. I just thought, ‘what happened to my daddy? Why is everyone here? Where’s my daddy?’ because we saw all these people and didn’t see him. We walked into my aunty’s room in my pa’s house and saw my mommy crying in my pa’s arms. My mom was crying more than I ever saw her crying before. She opened up her arms to us. My pa said, ‘should I do it, or you?’ And then my mom shook her head and cried. My pa told us everything’s going to be alright, he’s going to look after us and he told us that things happen for a reason and God has a plan for all of us. He told us the news that my father had died. That he had been in a motorbike accident.
“I didn’t believe it. I didn’t even cry because I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t picture a world without my father in it. Even for a year after he died I still believed he would come around the corner and this would all be a joke. My sister just cried. The whole family was heartbroken.
“My father said to my mommy at some point as a joke that he was only going to live until he was 30 years old and he died at 31.”
Jordan was in the middle of Grade 4 when his father died, and for a month he and his sister did not attend school.
“We didn’t want to go to school. Every single day we would cry. My mom would try to be strong for us, but every now and then a tear would roll down her face and she would begin to cry. After a week it was the funeral. I didn’t cry that day, I was still in disbelief. We heard everyone talk about him and the kind of person he was. Me and my sister fell asleep at the funeral. They didn’t open the casket. My mom told me he didn’t go through any pain that his neck had snapped.”
The following term, Jordan returned to school.
“In primary school, I eventually came to the realization that my dad was gone and that he was not coming back. I started getting depressed, but I didn’t want to show it. It felt like I was alone in the world. My mom had my sister. I was closer to my dad. He bought me a kiddies motorcycle and every afternoon we would go out on the bike.
“That was when I turned to eating a lot. It’s because my daddy liked eating. He was short and fat. I thought that if eating made him happy, then it would make me happy too, so I turned to eating. I ate all kinds of things. I ate a lot of meat mostly and a lot of fast foods that my mom bought. Every night after we had supper I would ask for seconds and thirds, and then eat the rest.
“I just kept eating and eating, and it filled something in me. Every time my stomach got full, it would take up the space that my father left. People used to say ‘he’s eating because he’s a growing boy so just leave him’, but I was not really growing, I was ballooning.”
In Grade 8, Jordan’s mom decided he should attend a high school outside of his community.
“I got to school and I’m sweating through my palms. All my friends remained in Mitchells Plain. I was going to a school where most of the children already knew each other.
“I was bullied for most of the year. I wore glasses and I was short and fat. I had bad sinuses and so I had teary eyes and they made fun of that too. Everything was wrong with me!
“In Grade 9, the bullies (three or four of them) got physically abusive. I would always think to myself, ‘why is this happening to me? I don’t deserve it.’ I became extremely anxious and it affected my school work. In class, I couldn’t focus because I would have to watch my back. They would trip me. They’d hit me. The others did nothing, they were just bystanders. I was too afraid to hit back.”
“By that time I did tell my pa. He told my teacher and the teacher warned the boys to stay out of my way, and then it started getting worse and they started picking on me more often. It got to the point where I couldn’t see a way out of it, and I would stay in the school library during break time. I drifted away from my friends and I became a loner.
Jordan's mother remarried when Jordan was in Grade 7. After some time his mom and stepfather started arguing and even though the arguments never got physical, Jordan went to live with his grandfather in Lansdowne, so that he could focus on his schoolwork.
“I was happy with the decision. I had a close relationship with my grandfather. My grandfather taught me carpentry and I helped by making wooden pieces so that I could earn pocket money. I loved the time spent with my pa.”
Then Jordan decided to make a change.
“I fell for my girl best friend and she rejected me. She was one of the reasons I started working out. The other reason was that I kept getting picked on and I thought to myself, ‘the reason why you are getting picked on is because you can’t stand up for yourself.’ I was too insecure to do anything about it. I thought if I worked out I would get a better body image and that would boost my confidence. I initially thought I was changing for the bullies, but actually, I was changing for myself.
“Every single night I would work out until my body felt numb. I began with push-ups. I would push myself to do 200 a night. The first night I did 30 push-ups. My pa saw me doing this every night and he gave me weights, and I started lifting. There was no excuse, each night I worked out, seven days a week.
“I saw that my body was changing and that my fingers could now go around my wrist. I decided to starve myself because that would make me lose weight faster.
“No breakfast, in the afternoon I would have an apple and in the evening I’d have half my supper. My body was feeling empty but on the outside, I was feeling big and stiff.
“My body transformed in a year. My teachers even noticed it. My peers couldn’t believe it. Their reactions made me feel happy and more confident in myself. I noticed that they stopped making fun of me and I wasn’t fat anymore and I was taller. I was feeling uplifted. I was happy that I was getting thin.
“After my friends started seeing it, the girls started seeing it too, that’s when I got most happy!
“After that, the bullying eventually stopped. They just stopped and now, when they call me teary eyes, I turned that into a positive and call myself on Facebook teary eyes.
“You know that song ‘Georgy Porgy pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry’? I turned that into my pick-up line, ‘kissed your girl and made you cry!’
Jordan has come to terms with his father’s passing.
“I’ve learned to accept it. I got past it. I’m actually happy now. I am proud of the person I am today, and I know he is too.”
When Jordan was asked to conclude, he said, “My lesson is that it doesn’t matter what people think of you. What really matters is what you think of yourself. Whatever you believe will become your reality. Let your haters become your motivators.”
Jordan is a Leaders’ Quest participant
*The Toy Run which takes place in November every year, is South Africa’s largest motorcycle ride and it’s all for charity. Tens of thousands of bikes rally together through the major capital cities to donate toys to needy children in South Africa.