There was a time when Aykay Imad had set out to do something for others. That was more than a decade ago. It was a fight for freedom. But he failed. A failure that a lot of us will find hard to come out of, at least completely.
HPR Hero, Aykay Imad, has an undying spirit that refuses to stop moving forward, in spite of some old scars that just won't heal. But those are memories of a time in his life that was filled with hopelessness and despair, that one can't erase easily. Watching babies being killed in Ghaza, refugees being treated like mere objects, basic human rights being stripped off people: his was a past that was enough to harden him and ruin his faith in humanity forever. Being born as a Palestinian refugee and raised in Lebanese camps without a status or an identity, it's easy to grow up with a permanently damaged childhood.
"Still, as I grew up amongst the mass atrocities that were happening around me, I began to realize that I could not just sit and watch injustice happening right in front of my eyes. I was in this world to serve a purpose, and that was to help others get their rightful place in life. Young, still just a school boy, I knew I had to change all those things gone horribly wrong. From a straight A's student, my grades and interest in studies all came crashing down as I started to involve myself in protests against tyranny. For 7 years after that, I fought every day and every night. I got involved with revolutionary movements and started forgetting about my own self, my family, my school and my responsibilities. My only responsibility was to get my people the freedom they deserved. I lost my parent's support as they were unable to bear my lack of interest in school and my growing involvement with revolutionaries, fighting for social causes in a place they always knew was a lost cause from the start. Our relationship soured, as I was often forced to sleep out on the streets being thrown out of my home while still confident that I thought I could change the very nature of extremists"
7 years later, Aykay Imad finally gave up. The government, the wars, the lost innocence, the mass bombings all finally broke his spirit. The young boy who thought he could go out and change the system, became a victim of the system himself. Hardened, lost and dejected, Imad finally lost faith in others and in his own self. He quit fighting and he quit dreaming after what was perhaps going to be his biggest failure, his biggest challenge in his life. With a soul so sickened, a heart so hardened, and a body tired all in his teens, Imad applied to universities in Canada, and left his past behind forever.
The Next Chapter
The frustration of Imad's failure haunted him for years to come. He was leading a life, yes. He went for his classes at one of Canada's best university where he got accepted. Life was routine, perhaps even much more than what a lot of people in his shoes now could have only wished for. "But I was lost on so many levels. I was living, and yet not. Something huge was amiss. I had failed to help people, I had failed in my mission. But then again, I realized that my parents were right all along. Fighting for your rights sounds glorious only in some countries." But from where Imad comes, fighting for your rights can only be a young boy's dream at most.
"I was finally in a land that allows a person the freedom to do anything. And ironically, of all the times I could have done something, I now became completely directionless. I forgot the one thing that I was born to do: Help and motivate others. What good was my life now? What was I doing at a university in Montreal, studying Engineering?" Nothing made sense to Imad.
The Final Chapter
A serious accident in the city left Imad bed ridden for months to come. Lying in his bed at a hospital in Montreal, Aykay Imad felt even more lost than he had ever before. He had no motive and nothing to live for. Already hollow emotionally, he was physically left incapacitated as well. His doctor said he won’t be able to move for a long time.
"And then, out of nowhere, I had but one thought in my head. I couldn't let myself ruin my life anymore. I had my entire life ahead of me and I had to get back on my feet. I could not go on living in the horrific memories of my past anymore. I just had to let go of things I had no control over and move on." Aykay became determined to transform his life completely, and write his final chapter himself. He was alive after an accident that could have left him dead. Realizing this to be a second chance to change a lot of things, Imad grabbed on to his life with both his hands. It was time to help himself, so he could go out and help people again. "I had failed once, yes, a failure I thought I would never come out of. Yes, it still hurts that I could do nothing to stop the senseless bombings and killings and stabilize the political unrest in my homeland, but I have accepted finally, that there are some things I just can’t control." A first phone call went out to his parents to bridge the gap that was long overdue. A first time, at realizing that life is too short to have distances, and some relationships are just too precious not to take care of.
Imad went back to the gym to throw himself back in form. Proper training, an excellent diet and the courage that didn’t stop at anything soon saw him dead-lifting 400+ pounds only a few months later. “The only way I could do it was having enough mental toughness and self confidence to build physical strength.” For the first time Imad saw hope. He started to believe in the power of the self all over again. He began training his body, to be strong and to stand up again. To walk again. Slowly but surely, the physical training he underwent brought about miraculous changes in him, not only physically, but emotionally as well. The power of a strong mind and a strong body pulled him out of the hospital bed and out of his defeatist attitude forever.
"I understood the importance of discipline. And the value of having a healthy body. You can lose everything, but if you have your health, you have hope. But if you don't have health, all the money in the world will not bring you happiness." Ever since, Aykay made it his mission to spread the importance of having and maintaining a healthy body. “I want to make the world a better place. I want to motivate and inspire people so that they can take the initiative and courage to change mentally and physically; to look at me and say if Aykay did it so can we. I want to go to schools and talk to younger people about life, the future, being strong, fitness, the importance of family and show them how to stand up for themselves. I was bullied when I was a kid, but now, I’m physically strong and mentally even stronger. We can't keep on building societies based on fear or violence. My dream is as big as my love for this world. I change lives every year through my Personal Training, my overall positive outlook about life and through my motivational posts on social media. My goal today is to inspire generations.”
Today, Aykay Imad is one of the most well loved physical trainers amongst his clients. As a fitness motivator, he gives people his invaluable gift of having a positive spirit and the will and courage to be strong. With more than 6,000 followers over social media from around the world as well as clients that keep him at the gym round the clock, Aykay starts his morning by meditating and then sending out inspirational messages to all in his circle. He sums up his life with a famous quote: "I was looking for someone to inspire me, motivate me, support me, keep me focused. Someone who would love me, cherish me, make me happy. I realized that all along I was looking for myself."
Aykay Imad attributes his own attitude to his father’s undying courage. His father, who has seen the worst during his own lifetime, from being thrown out of his once-secure job of a pharmacist due to Lebanese authorities not allowing Palestinian refugees to have higher paying jobs, to witnessing members of his family being killed one by one by soldiers of warring nations, Aykay’s challenges seem microscopic in front of his father’s. However, to have witnessed his father gather his life all over again from scratch, and rise to the top as field personnel officer at a social service agency, gave Aykay the much needed confidence he has today. Perhaps Aykay's will to start his life from scratch comes from his father. Perhaps he learnt, that no matter what, life must go on. And for his life to go on, he must be healthy and strong. And that is what he now wants to carry on telling people.
His only grief now: When first thing in the morning, Aykay sees people looking irritable, angry, unhappy. "People have so much, they don't even realize it! Just look around, at all that you have, look at the freedom you have! Return that smile, say a quick hello, be humble, and be nice! Life will be so much more beautiful!”
Inspired by Aykay's story? You can share it on your wall and pass on the inspiration!