Written by Tina Goinarov & Anthony Ricciuto
16 June 2014

 Reflecting on the Road to Recovery

A One on One Interview with OPA Bodybuilder Nicholas Koebel



In a Blink of an Eye

 In the blink of an eye your whole life can change.  At one moment you can be on top of the world and in the next, everything changes where you have no control over what happens.  They say that the road to recovery is long and lonely. Roadblocks, distractions, and obstacles seem to appear and most of the time you end up with having no one to help you out or guide your path.  It is a toll that can wear down the toughest of individuals. It is saddening when you thought that you had individuals to rely on, ones who promised you support no matter what. But the sad reality is now when you are faced with a circumstance that requires support; they are nowhere to be found. It is times like these where you find yourself alone, picking up the pieces one at a time.

 Back in April 2012, a new bodybuilder by the name of Nicholas Koebel took to the stage and made his OPA debut in Men's Heavyweight class, where he placed 4th.  Having found a sport that fueled his passion and provided Nicholas with a sense of belonging, he went on to compete two more times just out of his love for the sport (even though he had already qualified for the 2013 Provincials in his first show).  Nicholas was at a great point in his life. He had sponsors who backed him and supported his competing. He had numerous fans and was on top of his game. Unfortunately, all of this came to a sudden and unexpected halt on March 17, 2013. 

 A Friendship is Born

 That night, Nicholas had attended a Jay Cutler seminar that was held in Toronto at a local community center.  This was where fans could spend a few hours talking to him, and get a sneak peak a few months out from the Olympia.  It was during the intermission, prior to Jay Cutler guest posing for those in attendance where disaster stuck. With a simple thing as tossing a Nerf ball into the basketball hoops, no one would have thought that would be the incident that would cause Nicholas's life to change forever.  In what anyone would describe as a freak accident, Nicholas went to take a shot and both his legs gave out from underneath him. He landed flat on his back, his body collapsing hard on the floor.  With only a few people offering help in a room full of spectators, Nicholas eventually sat up and complained about excruciating pain in both his knees. One of the individuals who had offered help to Nicholas, asked to see his knees. As Nicholas pulled up his pant legs, his kneecaps were not in their proper place but several inches above proper placement.  Nicholas was taken out by stretcher and to almost all who were at that seminar, forgotten. But to a very small few, he was not forgotten and new friendships were born on the back of this untimely adversity.

 A Story of Inspiration

 Now I have had the pleasure to get to know Nicholas Koebel much more than most. He is my best friend, and we actually met the night of his accident.  It was from that point on; he and I have built a friendship and trust where I have seen him through the good times and the bad. We have shared so much on his road to recovery.  Nicholas is unlike many of the competitors that I have had the pleasure to meet, work with, or call my friend.  There is something about him that makes him special.  I did not know who Nicholas was prior to the fall, or what his personality or demeanor was like. But based on the year plus relationship I have gotten to know him and call him not only my friend, but also my family. He is a very special man.  So many within the industry see him and do not know the truth about that day and what the past year has been like for him.  All they see is either the man they remember prior to his fall, or the one that they have added to their social media pages.

 Letting it All Out

 I had the pleasure to sit down with Nicholas Koebel and do a one on one to share his story. I wanted to outline this past year and what life has been like since that day in March 2013. Being as open and honest as he possibly can, Nicholas takes us back.

 Tina: The day after the accident, what changed in your life?

 Nicholas: Honestly everything in my life changed.  I went from being able to train, work, drive my car and do all the things I enjoyed doing each and everyday, to being stuck in a hospital bed not able to move, get comfortable or take care of myself.  I went from competing at a Bodybuilding show the week prior, having family and friends all cheering me on and promising me support, to being all alone with only a few friends visiting me from time to time and losing all my sponsors.  Being in the hospital was depressing and truly emotional.  The doctors couldn't promise if I was ever going to be able to walk again, let alone compete. If it weren’t for the few friends that checked in on me, I would have lost my mind.  After some deep heart to heart talks with my closest friends, I made a choice to not let this get the best of me and I fought hard each and every day through the pain and discomfort to just be able to do the basics on my own with no help and gain confidence and self respect back.  Only one or two people who are closest to me know what I went through and felt each and everyday and they know the struggles that I faced and the uncertainty. They are also the only ones who are still around and stuck with me every step of the way.

 Tina: After the hospital, rehab facility, and then on to independent living, what did you learn about yourself and others?

 Nicholas: After the months and months of being in a hospital bed and rehab facility, I had a lot of time to think and really look at myself and realize that this is life for me right now.  I could choose to do nothing and pity myself or with the right help, I could pick up the pieces and make the most and best out of this situation.  It took me seeing that my legs were not going to change overnight and this was my situation for the moment. If I wanted to change that I would have to change myself and my outlook on life.  I saw that I was stronger both mentally and physically because I made sure that I got up each day and did what seems now as little things, but small movements to get my legs to learn how to function again.  I eventually got myself mobile and around from place to place by myself. I learned how to do basic things with my legs all over again in a drastically short amount of time.  I also gained a new following of friends, fans, and supporters who were cheering me on every single day with their messages of encouragement via social media.  I didn't want to let them down, so that sort of made me work harder for them.  But I was also shown the negative side of others too. There were those that would make fun of my accident or make false claims about how it happened or that I was making it up.  You never know a person's true intentions until you are in a tough situation.  People will always try to gain something from your situation and the ones who are truly there for you will ask nothing of you in return. It was hard to deal with the negative, but I can look at it now and know that I am better for it all.

 Tina: Eventually you got back into training with weights and working on building your body back up to where it was prior to your accident, what circumstances either positive or negative did you encounter from others?

 Nicholas: To be able to fully put it all into words to express what the last year was like when it came to how people were with me is hard to do.  It was basically a large pot of mixed emotions for me and mixed reactions by those that looked on.  There were many that showed love and support in daily messages and posts, all the way up to those who sent hurtful and negative messages or made posts to mock my legs and their size for example compared to the rest of my body.  And I am thankful for the few in my tight circle who kept me grounded and reminded me to stay positive, humble, and not to acknowledge the negative.  If I want to make it in this industry, there will always be those that love you and those that hate you. But I have to remain true to who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to be seen.  The people in my life who were and are the positive forces that keep me going were with me every step of the way.  Training hard in the gym together and allowing for me to take my time or stop training if I needed to.  They helped me see that I can't rush the process and I have to trust the process in order for it to work and for me to get better.

 Tina: In September 2013, you made the decision to compete and do a comeback to stage.  It was at this point in time that you and your now coach Issa Abdalla first met.  Talk about what your experiences with him have been like and what it has meant to you to have him as a coach?

 Nicholas: To say that Issa is a legend and master of his craft is an understatement.  He is this amazing man that so many look up to for guidance and support and to learn from him and be under his guidance and care is truly one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.  He is someone I can lookup to and someone that I know I'm blessed to have this opportunity that many in the industry would kill for. 

 He is a role model and a god to me! This man took me under his care when no one else wanted to work with me or give me a chance.  He went into this knowing that my legs were messed up but told me on day 1 that if I keep pushing through every workout with as much heart and fight as I did on my first day with him, that there was no reason why I could not turn Pro.  He truly is like a father figure to me - looking out for me and sharing experiences on what he has learned over the years so that I do not make the same mistakes. He genuinely cares and if I am in pain, he doesn't make me stop, but he makes sure I can endure. 

 Tina: On May 10 2014, you made your comeback debut at the Luchka/O'Brien Classic in Mississauga Ontario, can you explain what that felt like? The prep, the day of and actually stepping on that stage once again.

 Nicholas: Making the decision to step back on stage was something I knew deep down that I had to do and prove it to myself that all the pain and struggle up to this point has been worth it.  It was also a way for me to see if this is truly what I wanted to do with my life. Going through the prep and to actually stepping on that stage for the first time in over a year, there was a rush and unexplainable feeling that came over me. I knew that this was where I am supposed to be.  Going through this prep was different than any of the other preps because I had my coach and training partner with me day in and day out.  They were both taking care of me and making sure that I had everything I needed to get through each day.  To say that the process and show day were emotionally charged and overwhelming would be an understatement.  I was nervous, scared, excited, relieved, and anxious.  I had reached the goal I set out to reach and it was all finally happening. Being on the stage and going through the poses at pre-judging, standing in the line up with 10 other great competitors, it just felt right and I could not have been more proud to be there.  I showed myself that I did it and I showed my supporters that I would not let them down.

 Tina: What are your hopes and plans for the future within this sport and for yourself?

 Nicholas: Like all of us who compete in the sport, I want to live the dream to the fullest.  I want to place Top 3 at the 2014 Provincials, compete at the CBBF Nationals and eventually earn my IFBB Pro Card status.  I would love to be sponsored by a top company and be in the magazines.  But at the end of the day, I want to make my coach and team proud and have their continued support in all that I do.  For me, it is all about training and living this lifestyle to the fullest and staying true to me and not compromising who I am for anyone.  I love this sport and the industry has been good to me and I want to continue to represent the OPA well.

 Tina: Looking back, how do you think the accident and the road to recovery affected you and who you are today?

 Nicholas: Wow...honestly, I became the man and person that I always hoped that I would be.  It has been a long, hard, and lonely road and only a few people have been there with me every step of the way and have seen all that I have been through and done. I believe I have become a better person and better version of me.  I learned a lot about others and what they say and do, does not always add up and I learned to trust very few and keep them close.  I learned who truly had my back and I am so thankful.  I now believe in myself and know that I can do almost anything I set my mind to.

 Tina: Having switched to a new coach, and now under his training routine, philosophy and guidance, what was your contest prep diet like and what type of training routine were you put on?

 Nicholas: After leaving the hospital and rehab facility, I made sure to stick to a healthy and pretty clean eating regime.  It was still 6-7 meals a day with lots of protein and healthy carbs and fats.  I also allowed myself to have a cheat or re-feed meal every so often so that my body could use those extra calories and put them to good use.  When Issa and I met, it was decided that he was going to take me on and help prep me for my comeback show. I learned very quickly how every little thing he said and did to me all worked together like pieces of a puzzle. There was a method to his madness, so to speak, and every element had a specific purpose to make my body rebuild, grow, and transform into a physique that was stage worthy.

 Like all coaches and trainers, Issa is very quiet about his methods and approach. So to not give away too much of what he had done specifically for me, I will leave it as he had me eating 6-7 meals a day that consisted of protein and carbs, each meal was to be eaten about 3 hours apart and I was to make sure I was taking my fish oils, vitamins and drinking lots of water.  Each week as we got closer to the show date the diet was changed weekly and eventually daily.  What was different for myself this time around was that the diet and training was done specifically customized for my body and condition.

 Training was unlike any training I had done before.  Yes the exercises and equipment I knew and was familiar with, but it was his methods and intensity that made these workouts unreal.  To tell you the truth, I would never know what to expect in a workout and how the training would end up.  I did follow a weekly routine of AM and PM sessions, with one or two days where I would only have one workout instead of two.  There was cardio and abs daily and the weight training was anywhere from high rep/heavy weight to low rep/heavy weight. The daily posing session was a must after each workout.  Issa also made sure that he was there at each and every workout and if he was not able to make it, you were the substitute.

 He also made it a point that I would only be able to have one "cheat" meal...not day, and that I would be back on the contest diet right away so as to not deal with post show bloat.

 Tina: What type of rehab did you go through when in the rehab facility?

 Nicholas: When I left the hospital, I was placed in a rehab facility in my hometown.  While there I was still unable to walk without support.  I used a walker and I had full leg braces.  My balance was off from being bed ridden for the few months prior and I was not really given many opportunities to move around.  I would do a lot of exercises on my own in the bed from information I had looked up on the Internet.  I did a lot of foot and legwork with a towel and some balance exercises to help me slowly regain some stability and control in my legs.  I made sure to walk both with and without the braces to learn how to go through the movement and range of motion.  I was in a lot of pain and I will never say that it was easy to go through all of this, but it was definitely something that made me push through the pain so badly so that I would be able to walk again.

 Tina: After you left the rehab facility, you pretty much did your own type of rehab and training, and then at the end of April 2014, you were given an opportunity to be sponsored by and taken care of by Health Bound Health Network.  What type of rehab are they doing with you and what has this experience been like for you?

 Nicholas: When I was released from the rehab facility and eventually given the ok to start back up training again I was elated. But I had to take it easy of course. I went back to the gym and would just do body weight exercises, and light weights on some of the machines.  I also continued to look online for exercises that others recommended for someone who has experienced a similar injury to mine.  I tried to do anything and everything I could to get better. 

 Then in December, a client I helped prep for a show mentioned that a family member works in the health care field and may be able to help me out with rehab.  He and I met up and he stated that there was still a lot of damage and most likely scar tissue build up that was causing the pain that I was in.  He had some ideas of what he could do and wanted to do for me. Then in March he met up with you Tina, and the both of you came up with some ideas and got the ball rolling for my rehab sponsorship with Heath Bound.  At the end of April I was moving to Toronto for my last 6 weeks of prep so that I could be under the care of my coach.  It was arranged by Health Bound that I would begin my rehab the moment I arrived. I would be under their care and expertise daily and for as long as I was here and beyond.

 Tina: Can you tell us a little bit about this Facility?

 Health Bound is a group of health care professionals specializing in multidisciplinary rehabilitation, independent medical evaluations, case management, and home healthcare services. Health Bound is dedicated to helping individuals rebuild their life and their health one step at a time by bringing care, research, and education together.

 Dr. Matt Trugeon (a Canadian Olympic athlete) is Nicholas Koebel's rehab specialist who has spent about 4 weeks working on Nicholas' legs, mainly focusing on his knees. 

 According to Dr. Matt:

 "Different types of treatment methods are been utilized to address the various musculoskeletal dysfunctions identified with Mr. Koebel's current progress.

 These include:

 *Manual Muscle Release protocols are used to reverse the effects of ischemia and chronic muscular hypertonicities and Myofascial Trigger Points in the affected musculature as a result of the extended immobilization of his legs after surgery.

 *Deep friction massage such as Graston technique is utilized on Mr. Koebel to create vascular disruptions to the patellar tendons in order to create new inflammatory reactions in order to lay the ground work that will facilitate new collagen formation and invariably strengthen the affected structures.

 In addition to addressing the various independent structures necessary for complete recovery, it is also important to address how each of these structures work in unison through functional movement evaluations.  Addressing these dysfunctions is accomplished through electrical muscle stimulation combined with proprioceptive exercises in order to increase movement performance and neuromuscular activity."

 Tina: Can you tell us a little bit about your coach, Issa Abdalla?

 Nicholas: To say that I feel blessed and lucky to have met him and to have the opportunity to be trained and prepped for a competition by him would be an understatement.  Issa is a legend and one of a kind coach and trainer.  He is this loud, in your face big guy with a heart of gold that is if he likes you...lol. He tells you the deal like it is and does not take an attitude or anyone not willing to give him their all.  He demands 1000% out of his competitors and he puts in the same.  He was up with me every morning to train and every night. Came to my place to check in on me almost daily.  Sent messages through out the day to make sure I was eating and letting me know what to do or change.  He was involved hands on and this was new to me.  He is well known within the Bodybuilding world and is friends with many of the legendary competitors that I look up to.  He trains IFBB Pro competitors and has even been contacted by big guys in the USA for tips and suggestions. He has a philosophy that whatever you choose to compete in, male or female, that is how you will be trained. For him there is no difference between the genders. 

 Even though there were days when I was in tons of pain, he still made me work out and train and pushed me, knowing that some of the pain was a crutch and I had placed a mental block on that I wouldn't be able to do what he asked.  If I needed support, or to regain balance, he did it and did not care. If people looked at me in the gym because I was limping from the pain, he would let them know that I had more guts to workout and not complain than any of them.  He had my back through it all. 

 I look at the whole experience of training with him as a dream come true and opportunity most people would do anything for.  It is funny that you really do not realize how big and known he is until so many people walk up to him in the gym and talk to him or you see him at a show. 

Issa did for me what I hoped a coach could do. He brought me to the best physique possible in the time we had. He made me believe in my abilities and myself again.

Tina: Thank you Nicholas for granting me this interview and bringing your story to the bodybuilding community. I want to thank Muscular Development and Adina Zanolli for giving us this platform to showcase our Canadian talent. I would also like to thank Anthony Ricciuto for making this happen as well as Dennis Ong for his amazing photography and video footage. I would also like to thank Isaac Afrifa from Olympia Muscle & Fitness for running the best hardcore bodybuilding gym in Canada.