If you are wondering whether you’re about to read another inspirational story about a displaced human who battled through hardships and managed to build a new life in a foreign land, then I’m glad to report you guessed correctly. The world needs to hear stories of courage, determination and attempting the impossible. I’m here to share with you how I lost a home and found a new one in the most unlikely of places.
My name is Fadi Hassoun and I took my first breath three decades ago on a beautiful day in July among the jasmine flowers of my beloved Damascus, Syria. Today, I hold many titles: I am a son, a brother, a fiancé and an attorney. But most importantly, I am a junior Trainer and Presenter of six Les Mills programs.
There’s little to say about my life growing up. My life in Damascus was charming, idyllic. I eventually became a lawyer and worked with multiple embassies as well as running my family’s business – we imported and exported electronics. This lasted for around 10 years, life was good. But then war broke out and slowly eroded everything that was “normal”, until life itself became intolerable.
I was in survival mode, beaten emotionally and mentally. Living amidst bullets and shrapnel was the norm, and it became vital for me to get out. One night the fighting was so bad that I took the decision to pack my bags and attempt the dangerous journey to Lebanon. I was not only leaving behind my country, but also my beloved family, friends and career. I did not even have the chance to say goodbye.
That was back in 2013. I had a vague plan in head: I would reach the border and cross over to Lebanon, then head to the UAE in search for a viable future. But the papers took too long and my opportunity was lost. So I stayed in Beirut.
What followed were the most gruelling days in my life. Lonely and angry, I simply could not understand why this was happening to me. I grew deeply resentful of the war until, one day, I met a lawyer who offered me a job at his firm. I was ecstatic. This is the part of the story where you’d think life began looking up for me as the protagonist, right? Alas, my financial circumstances meant I had to leave after eight months. I was back to square one.
To avoid returning to the same loop of negativity, I decided to join a gym. The stress of work, the war raging in my country, and the constant stream of bad news had become my normality. I needed a temporary escape from reality, a couple of hours to really let go and sweat all the worry out of my system.
I’m happy to tell you that this is where my story actually begins.
I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. I was at the gym doing my lifting workouts and minding my own business, when I suddenly saw a group of people coming out of the BODYCOMBAT class. Their skin shimmered with sweat, they were full of positivity, and they were the most excited individuals I had encountered in a long while. My mind was made up, I wanted to be like that, like them… I had to try this class.
It was in the middle of my first BODYCOMBAT class that I understood the hype, the amazing magical electricity that circulates through your body. I mean – that vibe, that track list, that energy… I knew I was hooked and I never missed a class after that day. The cherry on top was that I lost 10kg as well, which pushed me to attend other Les Mills classes, including BODYPUMP. Attending six BODYCOMBAT classes per week, I became a Les Mills addict, amazed by the transformation I witnessed in myself both physically and emotionally. That’s when I realized that being a mere participant in these classes was no longer enough. I wanted to give back some of that energy.
That’s when I decided to become a Les mills Instructor.
Now, I’m not that big of a believer in destiny, but after extensive research on how to become an Instructor, and on Les Mills in general, I realized that through a series of somewhat unfortunate events I had been put on the right track. During a time of loneliness in Lebanon, a country afflicted with racism due to old political problems with Syria, I was looking for a Tribe that would not discriminate against me because of where I came from and the God I prayed to. And it seems that I had finally found it.
In March 2014, I attended my first Quarterly Workshop and got a chance to meet our Master Trainer Thomas Cerboneschi. I made him a promise that day - I would never give up, and I would join him on stage one day.
Fresh back from the convention and with adrenaline still pumping through my veins, I began a rigorous six-month BODYCOMBAT training. It certainly wasn't easy, especially as I had to cope with the Lebanese culture and encountered some harsh refusals from a few people who wanted to turn me down just because I was from a different community. They tried to demotivate me as I grew into a professional in the fitness industry, simply because they believed that this was not a career that a lawyer could pursue.
But I kept going. My determination and perseverance were louder than their negativity, but… when it came to certification, I did not pass. This was enough to demotivate anyone, but not me! I’ve had enough setbacks in my life to draw upon my inner strength to push through failure and keep going. I knew this was me, and I was not going to give up until I had reached my goal.
I kept working on my fitness level, I kept attending classes and shadowing more Instructors. I gave it my all, my best and the last drops of stamina in me. From not missing a class to practicing at home every night, BODYCOMBAT became my life. After so much hard work and almost reaching a breaking point many times, I got a pass from our Master Trainer Vanessa Vassallo. I finally became a BODYCOMBAT Instructor.
Where I was from, how I practiced my faith, and even the color of skin, seemed to disappear in the studio. People attended my classes because they appreciated what I had to give, and how I delivered it. My vibes were louder than my Syrian accent and soon enough I had requests from gym managers and participants to teach more classes. I was ecstatic.
On October 6, 2018, I was certified as a junior Trainer in RPM, and a presenter in one of my favorite programs LES MILLS GRIT, after the Trainer selection bootcamp taken by the great Christophe Besse. On November 17, I taught my first Instructor module training (IMT) as a Junior Trainer to help new RPM Instructors join the Tribe. My time has finally come to help other Instructors become better, fight more and never give up.
In the end, Les Mills changed my life in many ways. Through it, I found the love of my life who, soon after, became my fiancée. I first met her in one of my BODYCOMBAT classes when she was the most passionate, energetic, determined and attractive participant. The spark was strong at first sight and she has absolutely changed my life for the better. Every time we enter a class, we recall the special moment that brought us together and wonder at what a beautiful matter of fate it was.
Another way that Les Mills has changed my life is when I got the Tribe’s “virtual passport” that documents my identity as an integral part of a decent and limitless global family. I had previously been rejected several visas to many countries, including The Netherlands, due to my citizenship and the overall discriminatory policies against the Syrian population. It is ironic that one of my rejected visa applications was intended to take me to the LES MILLS filming in Amsterdam. This happened after I had already bought my tickets for the event and made me feel once again depressed by my circumstances, which were again thwarting my happiness.
Although the Les Mills’ passport does not guarantee visa acceptance to all countries, I perceive it still as validation that every human on this earth matters, and that everyone is equal. It made me admire Les Mills’ values, mandate and vision, believe in them and embrace the Tribe with love and appreciation. Belonging to such a humane community was the main positive turning point in both my social and private life.
The journey hasn’t been easy but it has taught me that I possess incredible strength to overcome the most difficult situations, to never surrender, and to always strive to be the better version of myself. Most importantly, it has taught me that surrounding myself with incredible people who believe in me and lift me up can create miracles.
In the end, I was not born into a Tribe, but I was able to find mine, and for that I am most grateful. The path is still long, I want to continue learning. My vision is to reach out to people, inspire them as the Tribe has inspired me, and help them find their greatness. I can only hope one day I’ll get to personally thank the masters who motivated me to get where I am today, and to give back to Les Mills.
Fadi Hassoun is now based in Beirut, where he practises corporate and criminal law. He is a Trainer for RPM, Presenter for LES MILLS GRIT, and also teaches BODYCOMBAT, BODYPUMP, CXWORX and LES MILLS SPRINT.