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From refugee to 'Mountains Beast', Canmore man finds new life at gym

"I came here as a refugee on my own, no family; I didn't know why I'm here, I wasted away so years to depression, almost gave up on my life. I only find myself in the gym like three years ago and I never looked back."
CANMORE – Andy Mabidi's most noticeable feature is his friendly smile.

But the biggest ear-to-ear grin the Canmore resident is capable of is when he's pumping iron at the gym, his second home, where the 48-year-old 'Mountains Beast' has trained over the past three years to become a champion bodybuilder.

"I had no experience, no idea what I'm getting myself into, but in my heart, I knew this was something I wanted to do," said Mabidi.

As it turns out he's a natural, winning first place in the men's 40+ division on Nov. 6 at the 2021 Alberta Naturals at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino in Calgary. Mabidi also medalled in the open classic physique for all ages and won a trophy for overall placing.

He realized a dream of his came true through hard work and exercise.

"I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of where I came from and I'm proud of where I am right now," Mabidi said, smiling.

At this moment Mabidi's pleased smile is genuine.

Being active and going to the gym changed Mabidi's life in many ways, but for a long time he silently suffered through depression with a happy face masked over a hurting soul.

While in Canada, Mabidi kept his former life as a refugee bottled up and secret.

"I came here as a refugee on my own, no family; I didn't know why I'm here. I wasted away so many years to depression, almost gave up on my life," said Mabidi. "I only find myself in the gym like three years ago and I never looked back."

Overcome with emotions, Mabidi remembered the day life changed forever for him more than a decade ago in his home country of Zimbabwe, located in southeast Africa, and what ultimately brought him to Canada.

The country’s main political party is ZANU-PF, which at the time was headed by Robert Mugabe, one of the world’s most controversial leaders who was widely considered a dictator.

With a tyrannical ability to ruin lives, especially to those Mugabe thought as foes, he would declare many countrymen as enemies of the state and have soldiers hunt them down.

Mabidi was one.

"They decided to come after us, killing us one-by-one,” said Mabidi, as his eyes swelled and tears rolled down his cheeks.

"I didn't know where I was going to go or what I was going to do. I was just in a trance."

Knowing he was in trouble and fearing for his life, Jan. 21, 2010 was Mabidi's last day in Zimbabwe as he desperately fled without so much as a farewell to friends, family and his young four-year-old son, whom is his whole world.

"I didn't say goodbye to my family. I didn't say goodbye to my son, I just left," he said.

There was a very real concern that the government was monitoring his home and phone lines. Mabidi later found out soldiers were looking for him.

With the help of Good Samaritans, the fleeing enemy of the state dodged government border patrols and made it into the neighbouring country Botswana. Mabidi then travelled to South Africa, where in his time of need, turned to the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees.

"That's when they told me I'm a refugee and I can't go home," Mabidi said. "I said I want to go home and take my son and they said you can't."

Eventually the UN brought Mabidi to South Africa. He was originally supposed to go to live in Sweden, but there was a language barrier issue. In Zimbabwe, English is the official language, so on May 12, 2012, he left South Africa for Canada.

He arrived in Calgary and stayed in Cow Town for three years without family and friends and he was miserable.

"I was going through a lot emotionally, physically and mentally and I had no one to talk to," he said. "I don't have family here and I live by myself, so it's been a challenge."

On a whim, he travelled to Banff one day. He loved the area and decided to move here and obtained work at Canmore General Hospital. 

He would smile at work, but they knew something was off. After a hard talk with his employer, Mabidi was prescribed anti-depressants and that's when he "woke up".

"I wanted to change, so I decided to be active," he said. "Then I realized if I wanted to see my son, if I wanted to be OK, I'd have to look after myself and I promised myself this is the only way I'm going to get out."

At the gym, he found solace.

"He was alway happy when he could go out biking or go to the gym," said Mason Hubbel, Mabidi's coworker and best friend. "The one thing I've seen since going to the gym with him is he's the most dedicated person you'll find there. It's his happy place."

Mabidi began training for the Alberta Naturals bodybuilding competition, which is for athletes not using enhancement substances like steroids, but was held off due to COVID-19. During lockdowns, Mabidi built a home gym and continued training for his goals.

Eventually, all the exercising made Mabidi feel great about himself and he was able to stop taking anti-depressants.

When Alberta began opening back up, and the Alberta Naturals was rebooked, Mabidi's dream to compete neared, but he wasn't sure if it could happen without sponsors.

That's when he got in touch with the owners of Rebound Cycle, Tyson and Christina Podruzny, who are his friends from Canmore's Anytime Fitness.

"One of the things we really liked being able to have this business in Canmore and the Bow Valley is being involved in the community and seeing Andy every day at the gym, the smile, the vibe he puts out there, it's amazing," said Tyson. "With COVID, we hadn't done much for community outreach because things are closed and you couldn't do too much. This was a perfect opportunity to help out somebody who's just a great person and very open and welcoming and we said, 'let's make this happen for him' and then there you go, now we have a champion here."

After the competition, and rocking medals and a trophy, the Mountains Beast sent a video message to his son, Denzel. He is hoping to bring him to Canada to live once COVID-19 border restrictions ease.

"I'm looking for my son to join me one day and I'll be the happiest guy on Earth," he said.

At 48 and in the best shape his life, Mabidi got his dream of competing. But he isn't done yet. Instead, the hulking muscle man is planning to continue bodybuilding at more competitions in 2022 and as another goal, bring bodybuilding to the Bow Valley as a serious sport.

"At first when I came here and people asked why I came here. I didn't want to talk about my story," said Mabidi. "I was just lying and said my family sponsored me to come here, I didn't want to talk about it.

"I can share my story now with anybody, that's how confident I am and what I gained through exercising."

To follow Mabidi's journey, visit the Instagram page @teammountainsbeast.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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