SSI asylum seeker client Behnan credits bodybuilding with giving him something practical to focus on while his claim for refugee status is assessed.
Behnan, originally from Iran, has been bodybuilding for 15 years. “I started when I was about 13 years old,” he said via an interpreter. “My brothers were coaches, and because of my height and physical features, they decided bodybuilding was the sport for me.”
His brothers were right. At one stage, Behan was selected for Iran’s National Team but political turmoil meant he was unable to compete. “Only certain people are allowed to be involved in competitions in Iran. The authorities also tried to make trouble for the gym that I ran.”
Here in Australia, where he has been for about 18 months, Behnan is happy to have the freedom to compete. “In 2014 I came first in both South Coast competitions and third and fourth in the NSW State Competition,” he said. “And I just came fourth in the IFBB Australia competition.”
Behnan has work rights and has been trying to find a job in the fitness industry in Australia, but has struggled to secure anything so far.
Without employment or any family in Australia, Behnan’s days can be long. He said training for competitions had helped him stay focused and occupied.
“I train for about two and a half hours every day,” he said. “And I eat only protein; no carbohydrates. Lots of fish fillets and chicken breast. I also take protein powder supplements.
“It’s costly to do this, so I really struggle to afford it.”
Behnan’s dream is to compete for Australia, or at least NSW. “Australia is great; there are so many great things about this country,” he said. “So I’d really love to compete in Australia’s name.”
Despite it being financially difficult for Behnan, his SSI Case Manager, Diana Nguyen, thinks it is really important for Behnan to have this sport to focus on.
“I’ve seen how this has kept him more grounded and stable than many of my other clients, despite the uncertainty of his visa status,” Ms Nguyen said.