Be careful who you pick on in school they may grow up to kick your ass! Definitely turned his life around!

PHOTO: Noman Ansari

Finishing third at the 2016 International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Arnold Classic Australia Men’s Physique, 24-year-old Ali Raza stood tall, feeling proud. And why not! It was an incredible transformation for the once skinny boy from Karachi, who reached this point after battling various challenges throughout his life.
Growing pains
Childhood began idyllically enough for Ali. The first born in a family of four, he was surrounded by loving family and friends until he turned seven. “My mother, who was one of seven, was the first in her family to get married and have a child. I was that child, and, thus, I received so much love from everybody in my family,” he says in a Skype interview.
Unfortunately for Ali, this didn’t last, and his world was turned upside down when his family moved to the hot, dusty and isolated Saudi Arabia, where his father had been toiling to make a living for some time. “I was isolated from everything and everyone. I spent all my time in our apartment, or attending school or tuition. Saudi Arabia is a strict country with different laws and customs. Coming from Pakistan, it was hard to adjust. So I was always willing to try different, stupid things to try and cure my boredom,” he shares.
PHOTO: Noman Ansari

Alongside his younger brother, the rebellious Ali often landed in plenty of trouble. While in his kind mother he found a taste of the loving acceptance he had left behind in Pakistan, his relationship with his father only grew more complex. “[My father] spent every day at work only to come home tired and angry. Given the working conditions in Saudi Arabia, I learned to understand this anger,” he says. “Growing up, I rarely spent time with him, and thus could not share my feelings with him or speak with confidence. He loved us and gave us everything we needed; however, he never wished to spoil us out of his insecurity and fear of showing us his love,” he explains.
Although Ali could accept his father’s temperament, he couldn’t accept being compared by him to other boys. As a result of problems at home and harassment at school, Ali’s confidence hit rock bottom. But then something sparked in Ali. In what would prove to be a repeating pattern in his life, Ali decided to fight fire with fire. Channeling his frustrated energies, Ali began concentrating on athletics, winning school race after school race. In cricket, he was the leader of the same boys who had mocked him earlier. Ali also claims he was the fastest bowler at school after years of practice.
Around this time began Ali’s affair with the gym: “I was bullied and taunted for being skinny which affected my education as well. I thought if I can go to the gym and maybe gain a few pounds that might change things.”
Weight matters
To Ali, weights weren’t the only dumbbells in the gym: “When they took my measurements, I weighed 47kg with nine inch biceps and a flat chest. Two weeks into the gym, people taunted and laughed at me,” he recalls. Feeling insecure and intimidated, ali reveals he would hide in a corner and pick the lightest weights. “I remember one of the guys telling me gym is not my thing and that I should stay at home. No one believed in me, not even me, to be honest.”
PHOTO: Noman Ansari

But Ali knew this is where he belonged. “What kept me going was the mirror,” he says. There were times when he wanted to give up or take a day off because the gym was far from his house, but he would talk himself into walking 40 minutes in the heat to hit the gym because he was seeing progress.
Although the taunting kept Ali motivated to prove his critics wrong, he wishes things had been different: “If only the people who taunted and bullied me could have stood by me and helped me.” For Ali, the one thing he sought most at gym was motivation from others. “Seniors should never look down on their juniors at gym, and demotivate them. If someone told me, Ali you could do it, you can change and transform I would have progressed quicker,” he shares.
To add to the frustration, even Ali’s father mocked him for being skinny. But the progress Ali was making at gym kept him going. “Almost two years later, in the same gym where I would hide in a corner doing 5kg barbell, I was doing 35kg curls sanding right in the centre. The guy who told me that gym is not my thing had the same bicep size I did,” he reveals. But Ali found his true calling one night at the gym, just before it was about to close, when the gym incharge pointed towards him while speaking to a member and said ‘yae bohat agay jayega mere ko maloom hai’ (I know he will reach great heights). “Those words changed everything. I jogged my way home and out of excitement had a shake with six egg whites and two bananas,” he recalls.
PHOTO: Noman Ansari

At the gym Ali found that many dishing out advice were ill informed about the science of muscle gain, and would often spread comically incorrect information. In the end it was books and YouTube videos that became his teachers. Ali believes he would have transformed faster had he had a proper coach.
Fitness first
But while Ali made gains in bodybuilding, his education suffered. After moving back to Pakistan in 2010, when the Karachi boy wasn’t busy at the gym, he made up for lost time away from his homeland by having fun. This didn’t escape the notice of his father who was growing increasingly tired of wasting money on his education. Ali recognises that although his father and he did not see eye to eye, his dad wanted to see him succeed. After winning his first body building contest in Pakistan, Ali found himself travelling to Australia. Ironically enough, after years of feeling frustration for being compared to his peers, Ali found himself traveling overseas because his father was impressed by the changes brought in his friend’s son who had also gone abroad. “He thought it was a good idea as I’d learn responsibility and become more practical. Living alone in a new and different county would change me and make me a better person,” he explains.
PHOTO: Noman Ansari

In Australia, Ali began taking competitions seriously when a renowned Australian bodybuilder paid him a compliment, and recommended he take the stage. As a result, Ali’s discipline in the gym spread to his diet. “I have water or green tea on an empty stomach every morning, then a heavy breakfast. I eat every three to four hours, four to five meals a day, plus supplements. Fish is a very important source of protein, and I try to eat it four to five times a week.” But during off-season, Ali reveals he indulges in cheat meals at times.
PHOTO: Noman Ansari

In the 2015 version of the Arnold Classic Australia Men’s Physique, Ali didn’t do well, and he and his 70,000 Facebook fans blamed the judges. After the emotion left his system, he realised the judges had been fair, and he needed to work hard. A year later he finished just two spots away from number one. “Just stepping on that stage without a coach or any sort of help was a big thing for me. Moments before that I was thinking about the first day that 16-year-old boy stepped in the gym, covered in a hoodie, insecure and intimidated by everyone, now stepping on the stage of Arnold Classic Australia in trunks. It felt great.”
PHOTO: Noman Ansari

For those who look up to him, Ali, who has a fulltime job as a personal trainer, advices everyone to put their education first and pursue bodybuilding only for fitness. “Do it for the sake of health, but don’t pursue it as a profession unless you can afford the sacrifice. Eat healthy and workout at least four times a week and don’t listen to anyone passing negative comments.”