Portrait of a Nation: Abu Dhabi's incredible hulk - aged 74
Sabri Zarouq - a fitness instructor to the UAE’s Presidential Guard - runs his own gym and helps train the young and the old
Sabri Zarouq is no ordinary septuagenarian.
The 74-year-old grandfather used to be a sniper in the Palestinian military before becoming a fitness instructor to the UAE’s Presidential Guard.
Today, the young at heart pensioner still takes great pride in his fitness and trains on a regular basis at a gym he founded.
He set up Hulk Gym in Abu Dhabi last year, with the intention of helping users of a similar age stay healthy well into their later years.
“I’ve helped many people over 50 who said they could no longer bow or prostrate while praying,” the father of six told The National.
“But after training they were able to do that again. For them it is crucial to train with someone who understands their bodies from a first-hand experience.
“I’ve trained judges who were in their seventies.”
Mr Zarouq was born in Gaza in Palestine where his natural physique saw him stand out from the crowd from an early age.
As a young man he travelled the world as a competitor in body-building and boxing championships.
He moved to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia in 1964 where he opened his first gym. He also spent time in Romania, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon as a fitness instructor.
“When I finished high school there were hardly any job opportunities, but I managed to land a few jobs here and there because of my strong physique,” he said.
“I used to make barbells at home by putting cement in two big cans like the ones used for milk power.
“Then, before the cement dried, I inserted a bar in each so I would have weights hanging from each end of the bar.
“I also trained with tyres and we hung pipes from the wall for biceps and triceps training. People would look at my big body and recruit me.”
In 1966, Mr Zarouq left Saudi Arabia and a year later enrolled in the Palestine Liberation Army.
He became a sniper in the Arab-Israeli war that broke out in June of the same year.
Later, he was taken prisoner by the Israelis for a short time before being released as part of an exchange programme organised by the International Red Cross.
He then left the military and spent time in Libya, Egypt and Syria, before returning to Lebanon in the early 1970s.
In 1976, he was appointed as a guard to the palace of Sheikha Fatima, the Mother of the Nation, in Abu Dhabi, and two years later was transferred to become a fitness coach to the country’s Presidential Guard.
“I used to hold a microphone and give instructions to 200 soldiers in the mornings,” he said.
“I also arranged competitions for the army in power games and other sports. Any officer who was due to receive a promotion had to come for fitness testing.”
Today, Mr Zarouq's state-of-the-art new gym in the UAE’s capital feels a far cry from his first keep fit business venture in Saudi Arabia.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, he welcomed more than a hundred regular members to the premises.
“We are counting the days for the announcement to re-open,” he said. “I’m looking forward to challenging younger athletes again.”
Updated: June 5, 2020 12:41 PM