Former UCLA offensive lineman Amir (Nick) Ekbatani knew what it took to be a high-performing athlete. But when a vehicle sideswiped his motorcycle 4 years ago at age 25, he lost a portion of his leg and almost his life. While battling to stay alive and flooded with support from family and friends, Nick found new purpose in living a life of gratitude. He now actively coaches and inspires others to be their best, uninhibited by fear and self-limiting beliefs.
In 2010, after his successful career in college football at University California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Nick made a bid to go pro, trying out for the St. Louis Rams (now the LA Rams). He didn’t make the cut. Undaunted, Nick used the career disappointment as an opportunity for personal improvement.
Looking on the bright side
Nick had always disliked being heavy, weighing in at 315 pounds. With the NFL out of the picture, he no longer needed the extra bulk. He made it his new mission to drop some weight. He started running in earnest. Within 4 months, he dropped 80 pounds. He also found another way to enjoy a career in sports, joining ESPNHS, an ESPN website focused on high school sports. He felt fit and was flying high, personally and professionally.
In July 2012, tragedy hit. Hard.
A turning vehicle struck the left side of Nick’s motorcycle as he was traveling north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Nick was once again flying. But this time the landing would shatter his dreams and his body. Emergency crews worked to keep him alive. He survived, barely, but surgeons were unable to salvage the bottom portion of his left leg, amputating it just below the knee.
Recovery and renewal
The damage to Nick’s left femur was severe and continued to pose a threat. It kept getting infected and refused to heal. After 12 surgeries, Nick was finally on the mend. By 2015, Nick’s femur had grown strong enough to bear weight and was viable for a prosthesis.
“When things seem to go awry, I like to sit down and think about what is being tested. What am I learning?”
Despite the setbacks, Nick was determined to maintain as much fitness as possible during recovery. He never gave up. As soon as he was allowed off the bed and onto crutches, he could be found doing laps around the hospital.
Life with a prosthetic
Nick’s been on a prosthetic now for a little over a year. In addition to learning how to run and walk with a prosthetic, Nick has also learned it requires a lot of maintenance, including daily care to keep the skin clean and in good shape to avoid sores and blisters from the prosthetic leg. But through it all, he’s grateful.
“Be grateful for the second chance you get. We get one every single morning when we open our eyes.”
Call me coach
As Nick continued his efforts to stay fit through his rehabilitation, he started attracting attention from other gym goers. Seeing him cheerfully and efficiently pedaling with one leg in spin class was motivating to others, and his enthusiasm was inspiring. In turn, he was encouraged by others to teach fitness classes and decided to give it a shot.
While still on crutches, he began teaching gym classes in the LA area. Today, fitted with a prosthetic, you’ll find him doing personal training as well as group fitness in spin, circuit training, and track, helping gym members adjust their technique as well as their mindset.
Training with heart rate
Nick has always been an advocate of using heart rate as a training tool to get the most out of each workout. For best efficiency, he likes to design both his own workouts and those for his classes so that participants are always working in the right target zone. His preferred training session is interval training in zones 3–5, using a moderate intensity for warm up and cool down and including active recovery between hard and maximum effort intervals.
For participants not using heart rate monitors or unfamiliar with their appropriate heart rate level for each zone, Nick instructs them to let their breath be their guide.
“At zone 3, you should be able to converse. By zone 4, you can only choke out a few words. By zone 5, you’re gasping.”
Taking advantage of technology
Recently, Nick was a session presenter at the 2016 IDEA World Convention, and he’ll be returning in 2017. His focus was on how integrating fitness technology into a fitness business can improve and differentiate group training. He had session participants engage in a total-body workout featuring Polar Club, a heart-rate-based solution for group training. Doing a variety of cardiovascular and strength exercises at differing intensities, participants could personally experience how heart rate training works and better understand its benefits.
Nick’s Polar product pick
Polar V800 is an advanced multisports GPS watch for serious sports enthusiasts and professional athletes who want to reach peak performance.
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For all of his training, Nick likes to use the Polar V800 multisport watch, with its accurate GPS and heart rate data that works reliably on land and in water. “It helps keep me within my training zones for any given activity and allows me to analyze various performance metrics, such as my stroke efficiency in the pool,” he says.
Mastering anything, dabbling in everything
Nick always loves new challenges and particularly delights in the feeling of mastering something, whether it is learning to run on a prosthetic, perfecting his swim stroke, or hitting the right keys on the piano.
With his second chance at life, Nick is squeezing every grateful drop out of all it has to offer. During his long recuperation, he went back to school and earned his MBA. He also picked up guitar and taught himself to play. He wandered art museums, appreciating the way artists were able to see life through a different lens. Inspired, he recently bought a book on drawing and plans on putting pen to paper to learn how to sketch.
“Our modern lives can be pent up with so much emotion and stress. Having a creative outlet can provide a calm harbor in that storm.”
But his favorite application of pen to paper is writing. It is his preferred form of personal expression and one at which he excels. He’s an active blogger and writer about everything under the sun, from love and life to fitness fundamentals and health.
Getting what you give
Nick hopes to someday work fulltime in the fitness profession. While fitness is one of his passions, inspiring greatness in others is his goal. Nick’s philosophy is that you get out of life what you give.
And he looks for inspiration everywhere. In the kids he meets, the people he coaches, the triumphs of other para-athletes, and the wise words of profound thinkers.
“I think some of the greatest sources of inspiration can be found in books. I love to read and will always reach for a good book in lieu of the TV remote.”
Nick’s reading pearls
- Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, by John Wooden. Nick says the philosophy of this legendary UCLA coach has served as the foundational pattern for his own life.
- The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Nick found the messages in this book profoundly moving and inspirational. This modern day classic reveals the true gifts that can be found in life through a young man’s quest for worldly treasures.
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. In this important work, Campbell puts forth the theory that every significant world myth revolves around the same algorithm: Hero sets out, meets forces, prevails, and returns a victor. Nick believes the same holds true in life. We are all on a journey, with our own obstacles to overcome—obstacles that allow us to learn and grow in heroic ways.
Being the inspiration
Nick knows pursuing his own aspirations is in itself inspiring to others. As early as August 2012, when Nick was still recuperating from his accident, he witnessed double amputee Oscar Pistorius make history in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. At that moment, Nick set his sights on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Not knowing if he’d ever be able to wear a prosthetic wasn’t going to hold him back. He had a goal and a new set of challenges to master.
“It all started with a Challenged Athletes Foundation grant. They gave me a running leg before I could even walk. Time flies. Things change. Femurs heal.”
Now Nick just needs to figure out which event to call his own. And in the short term, he needs to learn and evolve his new athleticism. Knowing Nick’s tenacity and big heart, we’ll be looking for Ekbatani on the leader board at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
“As long as we have air in our lungs, electricity in our neural synapses, and love in our hearts, we can come back from anything. I’m in it to show everyone they can.”