'Fight of my life': Man takes up bodybuilding after Parkinson's diagnosis

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Massud has Early Onset Parkinson’s disease, which causes uncontrollable tremors and insomnia. But he says if it wasn’t for bodybuilding and the gym, he’d “be in a wheelchair”.

Five years ago, Massud Chopan was lifting weights in the gym when his left hand started shaking uncontrollably, causing him to drop a 60kg dumbbell. 

When the shaking didn’t stop, Massud went to see a doctor, who referred him to a neurologist. 

After some tests, Massud was told the devastating news: that at just 32 years of age, he had Early Onset Parkinson’s disease. 

“The diagnosis was scary. I didn’t know much about Parkinson’s….I said to the doctor...‘How long have I got to live?’,” he told The Feed.

“That was shattering.”

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Massud has Early Onset Parkinson's Disease.
The Feed

Parkinson's disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological condition that causes trembling in the body and face, slowness of movement and difficulty in walking, according to the Brain Foundation

The diagnosis was life-changing for Massud, a self-confessed gym-junkie who’d been working as a security guard in licensed premises across Sydney’s CBD at the time.

Initially, Massud tried to maintain normalcy and for two years, he kept working on the doors at nightclubs in King’s Cross. But eventually, Massud was forced to hand in his resignation for the job he “loved” as his tremors and balance worsened.

“If I could take Parkinson's away, I’d love to go back to my job and working at the pubs and clubs,” Massud told The Feed.

“Being in an environment where you're doing your job and people are watching you shake… they wanna pick a fight,” he added.

“They used to try to get aggressive with me. That’s when I decided I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Following his diagnosis, Massud says he was under a “dark cloud” of depression -- until he decided it was time to hit the gym again. 

“First in the gym with Parkinson’s, I was shaky, very shaky,” he said.

“With Parkinson’s, what people don’t understand is they probably see me in the gym as fit and strong but they don’t know what hurdles I have to go when I’m at home during the night and I get restless sleep, when the tremors start kicking in a lot.”

To manage his Parkinson’s, Massud says he takes 12 to 14 tablets a day. He believes that if it wasn’t for the gym, he’d be “in a wheelchair.”

“It is hard and it is a cruel disease because over time it gets worse,” he told The Feed.

“The disease eats you away. If you don’t keep the mind and body active, it can beat you.”

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Massud is now competing in bodybuilding competitions.
The Feed
 

Rod Fitt is the owner of Snap Fitness gym in Maroubra, where Massud regularly trains. Rod says he’s known Massud for six years and in that time, they’ve developed a close friendship.

“When something happens in your life, you can do one of two things; you can take ownership of it and fix it or you can blame everyone else in your life,” Rod told The Feed.

“Massud never came to me and said ‘bloody Parkinson’s’ or ‘why is this happening to me’,” he added.

“None of that has ever been discussed. It’s been ‘I’m in this fight and it’s a fight for my life’ and I just said ‘brother, I’m beside you’.”

Dr Natalie Allen, a physiotherapist and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, says that for people with Parkinson’s disease, exercise is just as important as medication.

“There’s been lots of research in the last 10-20 years that has convincingly shown that exercise is great for people with Parkinson’s disease,” Dr Allen told The Feed.

“We know that it improves mobility, so it helps people to walk better or stand up better and move around more easily. It also helps people’s overall fitness and helps with muscle strength,” she added.

Rod Fitt
Rod Fitt is the owner of Snap Fitness Maroubra and a friend of Massud's.
The Feed

Dr Allen says while “the jury is still out”, recent studies suggest exercise may also help to slow the progression of the disease.

She suggests that people with Parkinson’s follow Australia’s Physical Activity Guidelines and do a combination of aerobic, strength and balance exercise. 

“For people with Parkinson’s, it’s never too late to start exercising and any exercise is better than no exercise,” she said.

“If people are experiencing falls or a deterioration in their abilities, they should consider seeing a physiotherapist who specialises in neurological conditions for advice.”

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Massud placed third in the NSW State Championships for bodybuilding.
The Feed

When The Feed spoke with Massud in September, he was training for the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness NSW State Championship. 

Massud was the only contestant with Parkinson’s disease and ended up placing third in his category -- a testament to his hard work and strict training regime. 

Massud says despite his illness, he tries to stay positive and focus on “fighting” Parkinson’s disease.

“I wanna reach out to people with Parkinson’s,” Massud said.

“Don’t let the disease beat you. You get up there and do what you can to fight it. Keep training, keep your mind active. Keep focused,” he added.

“Do your best because you never let it beat you.”