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From Bullied to Badass

Fabian Petrina turned to the gym to cope with navigating a new country, mean-spirited classmates and two medical crises.


As an 8-year-old in Weinheim, Germany, Fabian Petrina and his friends held competitions to see who could curl a 2-kilogram dumbbell for the most reps. As he got older, his passion for pushing himself past his physical limit continued to grow. 

While his friends were buying magazines about cars, he was reading training and nutrition articles in bodybuilding magazines. But everything changed when Petrina moved to the United States at age 13. He found himself alone, unable to speak the language, and quickly became a target to bullies. So he took to weightlifting as a way to protect himself and quickly gained the confidence he needed. 

Now, at age 25, Petrina is a sponsored athlete for MuscleTech who lives in Las Vegas and San Francisco and works on the client management team of a global mobility law firm. In July, he earned his WBFF pro card through a win in Arizona, which led to him competing in the WBFF Worlds in London in August.

How did weightlifting help you navigate your childhood challenges?

I was that awkward kid with glasses who did not speak English and sat alone in the cafeteria. To me, the schoolyard became a battlefield on which I found myself dodging verbal and physical attacks, hiding in whatever shadow I could find. My left jaw and eye socket were fractured the one time I did try to stand up for myself, which shattered my self-confidence. I was angry, lost and alone. The one “friend” who remained by my side was the sport of bodybuilding. 

Working out became more than a hobby, it became my foundation, my sanity and my safe haven. Seeing my passion for the sport, my mom signed me up for my first gym membership shortly before my 14th birthday. I began to spend every minute I could find in the gym, mimicking the exercises I saw bodybuilders do. By the time I started high school, I had a solid training routine and had begun meal prepping/following a strict diet. I was now no longer that little awkward kid. Through hard work, I constructed an armor that took the target off my back and allowed me to stand up tall and be proud of who I am.

You also faced several medical obstacles — and overcame them despite your doctors’ prognoses. Tell us about your mind-over-matter attitude.

Shortly after starting high school, a routine checkup revealed a tumor in my left femur, and I was quickly forced to undergo multiple surgeries to have it removed. These surgeries left me immobile, in excruciating pain, and bound to a wheelchair and crutches for nearly a year. Eventually, I recovered fully and was able to return to my passion — bodybuilding — but not for long. At age 16, I had pain in my right ankle that was diagnosed as degenerated cartilage. Again, I was forced to undergo multiple surgeries, resulting in my tarsals being fused by screws to prevent further pain. I was told that I would not be able to live an active lifestyle, as excessive exercise would cause further damage and pain. I didn’t listen. 

As soon as I was able to, I went back to the gym, while still on crutches, and trained around the disability where I could. I learned to cope with the pain, to work around it, and find lifts that would allow me to target the muscle I was aiming to work without causing further injury to my ankle. It took years and I still experience pain daily, but I was able to fight through the walls that arose before me and become a professional bodybuilder.

How do you know when to push and when to stop? 

I listen to my body. If I’m sore or overly exhausted, I take a rest day. If I feel energetic, I skip a rest day and go to the gym. I usually take MuscleTech’s Vapor X5 Next Gen on my way to the gym — a couple of scoops of orange mango pineapple, and the second I start my workout, I get this boost of energy to keep me going and the pump is unreal. 

The one thing I like the most is it has creatine and other muscle-building components in it, something you won’t find in many other preworkouts. I don’t eat a cheat meal just because it’s my “cheat day.” I take a cheat meal when my body needs it. Learning to listen to your body is the key to perfecting your physique in the gym.