Ridiculed by friends, forced to sell mother's jewellery: Nothing could stop Junaid Kaliwala's bodybuilding dream
Twelve years ago, a teenager moved to the metropolitan township of Mumbai, harbouring dreams of becoming a self-sustaining individual. Like thousands who flood the city of opportunity every day, Junaid Kaliwala made the journey from Bhiwandi in Maharashtra hoping to create a name for himself.
A decade of ridicule for following his passion of bodybuilding recently fuelled Junaid’s victory at the NPC Metropolitan World Championship in New York. Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, he said, “I can’t believe that in seven years time, I would be competing against the best in the world. A lot of hardwork and sacrifices have gone into this journey and I’m proud that my country’s name is at the top.”
A boy in an unknown city
Having visited a gym for the first time in 2009, he was instantly hooked on. He added, “When I first moved to Mumbai, I had no clue what I wanted to do in life, let alone become a professional bodybuilder. No one in my family actually even thought about being a bodybuilder, and being honest even I did. I was working out to look good and feel even better, that was my first main goal.”
A fitness trainer by profession, Junaid’s baby steps into the fitness world was a rocky one. After not being given accreditation as a trainer, he would train people at the gym, free of cost. He said, “Within the first two years of bodybuilding, I knew this is something I want to get into for sure. My family wasn’t very supportive of this. My father passed away when I was young, so it was just me and my mother. She was completely against this and my elder brother even stopped talking to me for a while, when I told him.”
Even Junaid’s closest friends started questioning his ambition, taking jibes at him for choosing this particular career path. However, the Mumbai-based builder didn’t give up. In 2012, he visitied India’s marquee bodybuilding event known as the “Sheru Classic.” This tournament saw competitors from all around the world fighting it out for a significant amount of prize money.
He said, “Going there was a dream come true, because I used to watch these guys on video. Builders such as Kai Green have always been my idols. But going there also put me down to earth, as I knew I couldn’t be a proper builder, because our body type wasn’t like that. Hence I shifted to the Physique category.”
Forced to sell Mother’s jewellery to participate in events: Junaid
The physique category tends to focus more on contours and shape, rather than basic bulk, which is the criterion for bodybuilders. Being very shy in the beginning, Junaid enrolled himself to an online based competition. Among 120 entries, he was selected in the top 10, not bad for someone participating in his first competition. Eventually, he would go onto win the event, kick-starting his amateur building career.
He added, “The Sheru Classic was very difficult for me as I wasn’t at the peak of my fitness career. My dream was always to send my mother to mecca, she had a gold religious coin and I had to sell that so I could participate in the event. It wasn’t the best of time for me, but I made it out and I also bought the coin again and gifted it to my mother.”
In October 2013, Junaid made his first major foray into professional competition during the Sheru Classic. He would go onto lift the Physique title, underlining his potential as one of India’s finest. This particular victory also made him eligible for the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, which is the world’s second biggest bodybuilding tournament, after Olympia.
He added, “Bodybuilding in India has a lot of federation issues, there is infighting, there are clashes over which is the actual governing body, It’s there with every sport actually. Hence I decided it was time for me to move international.”
Despite finishing 18th out of 350 competitors, this instance was the first time an Indian participated in the competition. Apart from the exposure, he garnered some international experience, which helped him in future competition.
Junaid was also invited by Arnold for dinner. He said, “When I met him, of course it was an amazing feeling. He told me you’re the first Indian I have seen here and please keep following your dream. Such encouraging words from the world’s finest, always motivates you.”
After returning to India, Junaid medalled at the Nationals. A fifth placed finish at the 2014 World Championship saw him narrowly miss out on India’s first ever Men’s medal at the tournament. That being said, 2016 has been a breakout year for him.
After lifting the coveted Mr Mumbai title in February, he went onto win another bronze at the Nationals, before making India proud at the NPC Metropolitan Championship. He also won silver at the Tamper Classic in New Jersey, highlight his current upward growth trajectory.
He said, “This was a massive victory for me, my friend Deepika recently turned pro in the US, and I want to follow her footsteps. She motivated me to reach that level, told me that I have what it takes to be an international level athlete and it has worked so far. I made a lot of sacrifices to get here, and I won’t give up now. My goal is to definitely win Olympia one day, and I won’t give up until I do.”