Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”― Lao Tzu
At its core, bodybuilding is the sport of ultimate change. It’s the change that sparks growth, opposing change that triggers fat loss, and a lifestyle change that becomes the catalyst for success. While most of these changes are brought on with intention, every so often life has a way of intervening and unleashing a cascade of change that we never could’ve imagined.
For NPC competitor Hasan Banks that moment of unexpected changed came back in 2009 when his life was changed forever. After months of searching for answers to questions of puzzling health conditions that seemed to baffle doctors, he was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition known as Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 7 – a condition with no known cure to date. It was through this very unlikely series of events, wrought with unforeseen and unexpected changes, that Hasan found his way to the bodybuilding world.
Recently I had a chance to catch up with Hasan and discuss some of the details from his incredible journey, and you can read it all right here, in this Iron Affinity exclusive interview.
Q.) Before we talk about life onstage, let’s take a step back and talk about what led you here. Back in 2009 your life changed dramatically when you were diagnosed with a condition known as Ataxia. For those who are unfamiliar, would you mind giving a little insight into what Ataxia is, and some of the difficulties that Ataxia suffers go through on a daily basis?
A.) Ataxia is a disorder that has various forms. The form I have is Spinocerebellar Ataxia, type-7. This is a neurological disorder that impacts the part of the brain that controls our motor skills. It’s progressive and there is no known cure. It affects my daily living and I have issues with my walking, balance, coordination, speech and eyesight. I have to use a rolliator so I don’t fall. I am unable to work so I struggle paying bills and taking care of myself, but I am blessed to have awesome people in my corner like family, friends, and my coach Jason Giardino who has been a vital part of my life.
Q.) After receiving the news, was there ever a period where you felt depressed or overwhelmed when thinking about your circumstances?
A.) From 2009 to 2011 doctors couldn’t help me and I hated the situation because there was no answer and I felt hopeless. These past two years have been very tough, and I nearly lost my way. I was in a very dark place and almost hurt myself. I wanted to give up.
While going through this dark-period, the thought of being a father that my son would love and admire for not giving up my faith guided me in a big way. Competing allowed me to focus on what I can control.
Q.) Prior to your diagnosis how familiar were you with the bodybuilding world?
A.) I was a huge fan of athletes like Robby Robinson, Flex Wheeler, Sean Ray and Kevin Levrone
Q.) What was it that initially sparked your interest in the bodybuilding lifestyle?
A.) I was intrigued by the amount of hard work and dedication it took to get on stage. It looked very cool to me.
Q.) What would you say was the most difficult part of making the transition into the lifestyle early on?
A.) The diet and the emotional roller-coaster I go through as my body
Q.) What first sparked your interest in competing? Did you encounter any resistance from people who thought you might be exposing yourself, and your health, to unnecessary risk?
A.) In 2011 I started to use health and fitness to proactively fight my ataxia. I knew just working out wasn’t enough, so I spoke to my ex-wife about me competing in bodybuilding since I was also going to be a stay at home dad. It just made a lot of sense. I didn’t receive any negative feedback.
Q.) As you’ve progressed over the last few years, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
A.) Coping with the fact that I am disabled. [When diagnosed] My entire life changed as it was difficult to cope with being disabled and there being no cure. It’s tough having doctors tell you that there is no help for me.
Q.) Do you believe that the sport has played a role in helping you to maintain your health?
A.) The sport has played a huge role in my health as I focus more on my nutrition. The dieting has helped, as I really need to make sure I am eating appropriately. Unfortunately I have to eat when I don’t want to, as I have a fast metabolism.
Q.) What sort of struggles do you face on a daily basis that other athletes may not be accustomed to dealing with?
A.) I struggle with basic things like cooking, cleaning, needing assistance to move around, and needing to modify my workouts due to my condition.
Q.) Could you tell us a bit about your training?
A.) I train about six days per week. I have to use assistance when performing exercises. I use a smith-machine when performing squats, chest and shoulder press. My workout buddy helps me around the gym.
Q.) What, if any, long term goals do you have in the sport?
A.) I would be honored to obtain my IFBB pro card, which I believe will enhance my efforts in creating awareness about Ataxia, along with hopefully increasing the popularity and respect for the sport.
Q.) What would you say is the greatest lesson that you’ve learned from bodybuilding?
A.) Make no excuses. Believe in yourself.
Q.) What do you ‘get’ out of bodybuilding & the lifestyle?
A.) The lifestyle has given me a purpose to use my situation to help others. God has blessed me with the opportunity to show people that nothing is impossible when you believe. The lifestyle has given me a way to proactively fight my Ataxia
Q.) What was it like competing at this year’s Arnold Amateur?
A.) It was truly a blessing to compete at the Arnold as I actually stepped on one of the biggest bodybuilding stages. It allowed me to show the world the story of Mr No Excuses l. It has changed my life.
Q.) What message would you like to send out to the wide world of Ataxia sufferers who look to you for inspiration?
A.) Focus on what you can control. Go after your dreams as if your life depends on it.
Q.) Tell us what’s next for Hasan Banks.
A.) I am working on my foundation called the Mr. No Excuses foundation to create awareness for Ataxia, and help Ataxians with living situations like keeping the lights on and putting food on the table. I also want to give them a work out or just create a system that supports the positives in living life with Ataxia.
Q.) Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you along your journey thus far?
A.) My coach Jason Giardino who has been a huge help to me.After coming in 5th place as a bantamweight in the 2012 Southern States championship I knew I needed help preparing for a competition. I asked a trainer in my gym who had been competing and she gave me her coaches information and we spoke, out of everyone I spoke to I felt comfortable with Jason. He’s always being in my corner, helping me to stay focused and always showing me I am so much more than my situation.
Good, bad, or indifferent, most major change is sparked by some form of crisis. It happens when the tectonic plates of life shift beneath our very feet and reshape our landscape in ways that we never could’ve anticipated.
For Hasan Banks, although his world may look diametrically different than it did just a few years ago, he had the strength to do what many in his situation wouldn’t have had the courage to do – embrace it. Instead of wallowing in a deep pool of self-pity he refused to make excuses, and took up a fight against what seemed like an insurmountable force on the surface.He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t resist it. He let reality be reality.