Noor Kabir is the first Rohingya bodybuilding champion
© UNHCR/Rhett Hammerton
Location icon Australia

Rohingya refugee turns bodybuilding dream into a reality

Inspired by the film Rocky, Noor is the world’s first Rohingya bodybuilding champion.

When Noor Kabir saw the film Rocky, he knew his life would never be the same.

The movie is about a struggling fighter who, despite the odds, works hard to become the world heavyweight boxing champion.

Eleven-year-old Noor instantly identified with him.

“I saw something different, something I hadn’t seen before,” says Noor. “I wanted to look like him, I wanted to be him.”

Noor also imagined a better life for himself.

“As a Rohingya, you have no nationality. You feel like nobody. In the camp, there was no future. Rocky gave me motivation.”

Noor is Rohingya - a stateless Muslim minority that started fleeing Myanmar in the 1970s. He was born and raised in one of the camps in Cox's Bazar District, which now hosts almost one million Rohingya. Some of Noor’s family members have lived there for 25 years.

He shared a small shelter with his mother, grandmother and two siblings.

“We didn’t have beds, so we slept on the floor. We didn’t have much room in there, so that was pretty tough.”

In winter, they did not have enough blankets and jackets to stay warm; in summer, the heat was inescapable. They survived on food and water provided by UN agencies. With little access to education, Noor spent much of the day playing ball games with friends to pass time. This was the only life he knew, until he watched Rocky.

A dangerous journey by sea

A few years later, Noor learned of a boat departing Bangladesh. At 16, he arrived in Australia after a dangerous journey at sea and spent the next two years in various immigration and community detention facilities across the country.

Noor Kabir is the first Rohingya bodybuilding champion
© UNHCR/Rhett Hammerton
Noor Kabir arrived in Australia as a teenager, unable to read, write or speak English.

In 2016, Noor was granted a temporary protection visa. He later moved to Brisbane to be close to his aunt. Starting a new life was not easy. By then, he was 18 years old and unable to read, write or speak English.

“I couldn’t even say ‘hi.’ I mostly learned by watching and rewatching action movies, like Rocky and other Sylvester Stallone movies.”

Noor supported himself by working odd jobs. He joined a local gym where he developed a passion for fitness and eventually became a qualified personal trainer.

Fulfilling a dream

His dream was to become a top athlete, just like Rocky. To achieve this, he sought the help of Simon Stockton, a professional coach.

“I taught him how to pose and how to present his physique,” says Simon, who was deeply moved by Noor’s story, so much so that he offered to coach him for free.

“Noor managed to come to Australia, get a driver’s license and a job, learn English and join the gym. I thought, if he’s learned all of that on his own, imagine what he could do with some help.”

Noor Kabir is the first Rohingya bodybuilding champion
© UNHCR/Rhett Hammerton
Noor Kabir training at the gym.

In 2021, Noor won fifth place at his first-ever state bodybuilding competition. This made him more determined than ever.

He continued to train hard, even while fasting for Ramadan. Two weeks later, Noor stood on the stage for a second time, hoping he would win second or third place this time. As those titles were taken, he crossed his fingers behind his back, his heart pounding. His name was announced as the winner.

“That was one of the best feelings I’ve had in all my life.”

Noor proudly describes himself as the world’s first Rohingya bodybuilding champion.

His dream now is to compete on the international stage, but he cannot make this a reality until he secures the right to travel.

“I want to inspire my people, and others who are growing up with hardships, to not give up.”

Learn more about the Rohingya crisis