Brisbane bodybuilding champion draws on Rohingya refugee camp survival for new beginning
By Nabir Khan, ABC News
Noor Kabir learnt to live on a strict diet while surviving on rations in a Bangladesh refugee camp — now he follows one by choice in the hope of becoming a bodybuilding champion.
The 25-year-old recently won the Brisbane bodybuilding competition ICN Classic and is training to compete in its national version in September.
He hopes his dedication to the sport inspires other refugees to eat healthy and pick up weights in whatever circumstance they find themselves.
His Rohingya parents were already in the refugee camp when he was born.
“When I lived in the camps, I struggled with food — not enough food, not enough carbs, not enough drink,” he said.
“Clean water was a problem too. We couldn’t afford three meals, sometimes we had to eat once a day.
“We lived … seven people in a room that’d be … 5 square metres.
“I lived like this for 15 years – it wasn’t a good life, so I wanted a new beginning.”
- Noor Kabir is believed to be the first Rohingya man to win a body building competition
- His trainer Simon Strockton says he was struck by Noor Kabir’s humble nature and inspiring story
- Noor Kabir upheld a strict training regime while fasting for Ramadan
The search for ‘a good life’
Noor Kabir came to Australia alone by boat when he was 16.
He never even told his mother of his plans.
“She didn’t hear from me for two weeks and was quite upset and crying a lot when she found out because she thought I’d been killed by Bangladeshis,” he said.
“She wouldn’t allow me to come, but I couldn’t stay any longer and wanted to see a good life.”
After spending two years in community detention in Australia, he was given a bridging visa.
He got a job as a forklift driver, but meeting volunteer refugee tutor Phil Nixon in 2017 took his life in a new direction.
“I’d go to the gym with friends just for fun or something to do,” he said.
“Phil said that I was quite good at that and I should probably start studying fitness.”
They met in 2017 through mutual friends in the Brisbane Rohingya community.
Mr Nixon said Noor Kabir was initially “reserved” and “unsure” about pursuing bodybuilding, but believed he had the inner strength “to do something really amazing”.
“I wanted to give him a little bit of a push in that direction by being a friend who kind of got behind him and said, ‘Why don’t you just really go for this?’,” he said.
‘A fire lit inside him’
Noor Kabir began studying to become a qualified personal trainer.
His growing passion for fitness combined with an intense desire to represent his Rohingya roots by doing something “different”.
Bodybuilding attracted him and last year he was referred to fitness coach, Simon Strockton.
“I didn’t know anything about bodybuilding or the competitions, but I wanted to go there and represent my people,” Noor Kabir said.
“I knew that [Strockton] trained people for shows, so I went to him and told him about my background and what I wanted to do.”
Mr Strockton said he saw immediate potential in Noor Kabir and was inspired by his story.
“He told me his reasons for competing and he told me about his background … and what it meant to him to show people in his home country that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve and I coached him for free — I found it that inspiring.”
The duo started working towards competing.
Mr Strockton said while Noor Kabir did well in his first show, he was upset he did not come first and started training and dieting harder for the ICN Classic, which was due to take place a fortnight later.
He won that competition.
“It was almost like there was like a fire lit inside him … honestly just blew the whole place apart. I couldn’t believe the difference in two weeks of the guy… [it] just shocked me,” Mr Strockton said.
Fasting amid a strict training regime
Mr Strockton said it was all the more impressive because Noor Kabir was fasting for Ramadan through the competition.
“As soon as he finished the last show, he went into Ramadan.
“Can’t eat in the day, can’t drink in the day and he’s just doing it, he’s just making it work, just relentless … he’s getting all his food and his drinks when he’s allowed to and training at night.
He said Noor Kabir had impressed many in the fitness community.
“I told them a little bit of his story … and everybody was just kind of really astounded by what he achieved.”
Mr Nixon said his success was a testament to his hard work and discipline.
“When I was a teenager at school, there were opportunities for physical education at school … also outside of that, opportunities to participate in recreational sports,” Mr Nixon said.
“While I had those things, he was on a boat to Australia.”
Noor Kabir said he was proud to be the first Rohingya man to win a bodybuilding competition in Queensland.
“My refugee background is my strong point,” he said.
“I want to represent my people by competing … not just in Australia, in the world.”
He is also studying to be a nutritionist and hopes to impart his knowledge to those he left behind in Bangladesh.
“It’s tough — some family members and friends don’t have enough to eat still,” he said.
“It’s hard to get in touch regularly because internet has been an issue recently.
“There’s a lot of terrible things in the camps. Hopefully fitness can stop someone from doing those.”
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