When Koroush Valiseh was 16, he fled war-torn Iran with his family and found a home in West London. But Koroush took with him his native love for weightlifting and wrestling – the Iranian national sport. He settled into life in Ladbroke Grove but struggled to fit in. He was handed £90 by a charity to help develop a skill that would make life adjusting to the UK a bit easier.
With the small sum, Koroush began training as a fitness instructor and sport became a huge part of his life. Over the next 25 years, Koroush, now 41, has built a career in sport and he represented Great Britain at the 2003 World University Championships in Italy. But seven years ago, he reached his goal of launching Westway Barbell Club – a weightlifting community that trains people from all walks of life and helps them reach their fitness goals – in a bid to help people like him. Some of his clients include those fleeing conflict in Afghanistan who, with Karoush’s help, have gone onto compete at the Olympics. Since the club started, hundreds of weightlifters have found like-minded fitness buddies but they’ve also built a community. Westway Barbell Club is also am Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) gym meaning they are equipped to support users with physical disabilities.
‘As a family, we had to make the decision between leaving and losing our lives,’ Koroush explained to MyLondon. ‘It was very difficult when we came to London but this community gave to me. ‘I knew I had to find people who experienced the pain that I have. I’ve trained students from Afghanistan who have lost everything. When you hear their pain it completely invalidates what I’ve been through. ‘That is what inspires me, to help better their lives in any way I can.’
The Westway Barbell Club also serves as a GP referral gym, which means they help people who need fitness support for health complications such as stroke and arthritis. Koroush also hopes to invite at-risk youth from the Kensington community and invite them to take up the sport.
He added: ‘We want to give everyone in the community a home in this club. ‘We have students from all different backgrounds and challenges – refugees, people struggling with mental health, people who have overcome religious and cultural barriers. ‘We want the club to be accessible to everyone.’ You can find out more about the club via the Westway Barbell Facebook page.