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A muscle man moved Masterton

Bodybuilding was at a zenith in the 1980s. A Schwarzenegger action film could always be counted on to feature a shirtless montage. So when the opportunity came for Masterton residents to see a Mr Universe champion at their local gym, they jumped at the opportunity. Mark Pacey of the Wairarapa Archive recalls the visit of French bodybuilder Nordine Zouareg.

Zouareg had the most un-bodybuilding-like childhood you could imagine.

He was born at just two pounds and was a very sickly child.

He first met the world as his poor mother gave birth to him on the back of an army truck in Algeria.

He remained sickly for most of his childhood and his family moved to France to try and improve his health.

Along with 13 siblings, he lived in the suburbs of Paris and was an easy target for bullies due to his health and small size.

He had aspirations of becoming a gymnast but after breaking his wrists he changed his goals and turned his attention to bodybuilding.

Through sheer determination and herculean effort, the small sickly boy completely transformed his physique.

In 1985 he competed in the Mr France bodybuilding championship and won the title.

The following year he set his sights higher and added the titles of Mr Europe, Mr World and Mr Universe, the latter perhaps better known as being won by a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1968, 1969 and 1970.

Zouareg took out the title of Mr Universe for a second time in 1988, the same year in which he went on a world tour that would bring him to our shores.

On August 11, Nordine Zouareg walked into Masterton gym, La Physique, to demonstrate some bodybuilding techniques and answer some questions from the public.

For those who were considering taking up the craft, Zouareg shared some interesting facts.

He stated that when he started bodybuilding at age 20, he was just 55 kilograms but within two years of starting to lift weights he was runner-up at the Mr World contest.

“To get successful, you must see yourself as successful,” he said.

He also shed some light on the career of a bodybuilder, highlighting the shortness of it.

“The expected career length of a top bodybuilder is 10 years.”

Aged 25, he was already half way through his career and had added some impressive titles.

Now charging between $1000 and $2000 to appear at gyms around the world to share his experience, the Frenchman was doing well, but it was hard-earned with untold hours toiling with weights in gyms.

His opinion of New Zealand was that we were still a bit behind the times.

He said he felt gymnasiums here were 10 years behind the rest of the world and that in some of the gyms overseas, he could be training with as many as 400 other enthusiasts, nothing like what is in a gym here, even today.

The crowd at La Physique was rather subdued and not many questions were asked.

Gym owner Dave Green summed this up: “It was a pity they weren’t more vocal, but they may have been a little over-awed.”

From Masterton, Zouareg was off to Wellington where he was to give a seminar on bodybuilding techniques at a nightclub and was also reported to be giving a “musical routine”.

After his New Zealand tour, Zouareg continued to compete in the bodybuilding world and then, true to his word, he moved away from bodybuilding and became a fitness instructor at Miraval, Life in Balance Resort and Spa in Arizona.

He’s written three books on weight loss, health and mental health and today gives motivational speeches on those topics.


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