A teacher-pupil reunion is often a daunting encounter – particularly for the pupil – but for Ron Dingley and Mathew Browne it was a happy, memorable experience.

Mathew, the owner of Pro Active Fitness, a health club and wellness centre in Hermanus, was a pupil at Beachwood Boys’ High School in Durban when Ron was a teacher there. Both relocated to the Cape many years back and, after more than 30 years, a member of the gym was instrumental in reuniting the two.

Pay-back time… Mathew Browne (right) puts Ron Dingley through his paces.

Ron remembered Mathew to have been “high-spirited – a bit of a rebel” and was pleased to know that a non-conformist such as his former pupil had successfully grown and maintained a thriving business.

“It was the norm for the boys at Beachwood to play sport,” recalled Ron. “Mathew, however, rebelled against that – just because sport was what everyone did. He had above-average grades but chose not to extend himself in that regard either. I often wondered where life would take this young man who clearly had potential and appeared to be wasting his given talents – or so it seemed.”

Mathew admitted to balking at the system however – and whenever – he could. “I must have been a teacher’s nightmare. School was not for me and ‘Jacks’ were a regular occurrence,” he recalled, adding that Ron’s (“now that I can drop the Sir”) hand was lighter than some of the heavy-handed masters he encountered.

With school days behind him – and impressive grades – Mathew received a bursary from the Department of Justice to study law through Unisa. After two years he realised his focus had changed so, with successful credits, he enrolled at the Durban-Westville campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and completed a three-year degree in Human Movement Studies (today known as Sports Science). A wanderlust took him to the UK for six years, after which he made Hermanus his home. Here he managed Hermanus Health & Fitness for seven years before embarking on his own venture – Pro Active Fitness.

Pay-back time… Mathew Browne (right) puts Ron Dingley through his paces. Ron’s wife Marian and his daughter Vanessa Meredith support the banter.

With more than 800 members, 11 personal trainers, 3 biokineticists and 43 classes a week, Mathew’s ‘calling’ has been an extremely successful one – for him, as well as for the Hermanus community that benefits from the all-in-one family gym. Facilities comprise a spinning studio, cardio section, circuit, free-weights training area, stretching area, sauna, sunbed, health bar, changing rooms and relaxed atmosphere.

“I believe our success has to do with not tying members into lengthy contracts,” explained Mathew. “We offer several different categories of membership that can be paid on a month-to-month basis – or a discounted lump sum.”

Clients believe Pro Active’s success lies in the friendly professional attitude of the team. “Mathew and his staff take a personal interest in all clients and they go out of their way to make certain that everybody and anybody can call on them at any time for help and advice,” commented an elderly member.

And how did the teacher-pupil meeting develop? “A prospective member who was relocating to Hermanus phoned to enquire about the gym,” explained Mathew. “I happened to answer the call and during our conversation she said that, judging from my accent, she believed I was from Durban. When I confirmed she was correct, she asked what school I’d attended. Ron Dingley was her brother-in-law, so I suggested she should bring him to the gym to see what a Beachwood boy had achieved.

“I subsequently met Ron’s daughter Vanessa Meredith, who had been a client for more than a year. When the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, Ron, his wife Marian, and Vanessa joined me at the gym for coffee. Imagine our surprise when it transpired that one of my daughters, and my grandson, lived in the same complex as the Dingleys.”

“How’s that!” enthused Marian, when it became obvious that Ron and she, on many occasions, had watched Mathew’s young grandson frolicking in the Somerset West complex’s children’s playground.

“It was enlightening to see and hear about all that Mathew had achieved,” said Ron. “He has walked a long and sometimes difficult path, but perseverance has paid off. Most of all, I’m impressed by his humanitarian spirit and I wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pro Active is expanding and will relocate to the Hermanus Sports Centre towards the end of this year.

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