Nordine Zouareg is an international fitness personality, coach, and author who won the titles of Mr. World and Mr. Universe in 1986. The champion has since become a life coach to politicians, executives, and celebrities in the corporate and private sectors. Globally acclaimed for his coaching abilities and expertise on wellness, Nordine led the groundbreaking fitness program at the “Miraval Resort” spa in Arizona. Thousands of people have now enjoyed his holistic and unique teaching methods.

Nordine has penned the best-selling book titled “Mind Over Body” and is the creator of Executive InnerFitness®.

Interestingly, Nordine struggled in his childhood. He was a sickly youth living in a third-world country who struggled to the top via perseverance. His insightful teaching methods now help others better their minds, hearts, and bodies and ultimately reduce stress through awareness and life/work balance.

Nordine is currently working with The Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness for the greater good. His children are his passion as well as reading, traveling, cooking and—of course—exercising and helping others. Nordine recently discussed his incredible life, goals, and more via an exclusive interview.

Bodybuilding, success, and moving to America

Meagan Meehan (MM): You were a sickly child, so how did you cope with that when you were growing up and how did your poor health affect your overall childhood?

Nordine Zouareg (NZ): We lived in Roubaix, North of France, in a terrible area. It wasn’t easy growing up sick in a racist environment, being poor, bullied and disconnected from my self-worth, self-love, and self-care. I was living in my world, overwhelmed with fear, doubt, and anxiety. My coping mechanism was to cry after school and as soon as I got back home.

It was a ritual that allowed me to get sadness, anger, and hurt off my chest; it kept me hoping for a better life. Sometimes I would even contemplate suicide. I often wondered why my parents choose France? Why not America? John Wayne, Cowboys and Indian movies from America, and Sam Cook and Marvyn Gay’s songs, were my companions and kept me dreaming.

I once, when I was about 10 or 11, got suspended from school because I drew an American flag and a muscle man on my notebook. My punishment was to write a thousand times: “I am not allowed to daydream while in class.” I needed to dream in order to survive; dreaming is what made me who I am today.

MM: What prompted your interest in bodybuilding and how did that lead to you entering into—and winning—contests?

NZ: I stumbled upon bodybuilding because of making the wrong choice of picking gymnastics where I broke both my wrists as a result, and while performing the pommel horse during my first and only gymnastics event. My intention was to be like Albert Azaryan, an Armenian Olympic Champion. I decided to engage in a journey to transform my body so I joined a gymnastics club.

My gymnastics coach decided, after six months, that it was time to tell me the truth; that I sucked. That led to total disappointment and projected me right back to low self-esteem, I felt sorry for myself. But that also didn’t last! My desire and intention were still there. I wanted to get big and ripped so I can feel powerful and protect myself. I followed my gymnastics coach advice and joined a bodybuilding gym. Within three short years, I won the European, the World Championships and the Mr. Universe 1986. I became a professional bodybuilder and had a twelve-year career traveling around the world. What kept me going was that no matter the odds, I would beat them. I refused to give up, but I learned to surrender to my self-worth, which fueled my spirit.

I fought and won battles but have not yet won the war.

MM: Why did you make a move to America and how did it differ from your life in Algeria and then France?

NZ: Since I was five I always wanted to come to America. I first came to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1994 to help my former coach Serge Nubret who was Mr. Universe and a European movie star. After only a few months I ventured on my own because of finding out I was eligible for immigration status of Alien of Extraordinary Ability, a status only granted to people with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics or through some other extraordinary career accomplishments.

The American dream is not always what we perceive it to be, even for a former Mr.

Universe. Hard work was, and it still is, sort of a prerequisite to making it here and I wasn’t immune to it. I started my business working from 5 AM to 9 PM, six days a week as a personal trainer. I moved to Tucson, AZ in 1998 where I was asked by world-renowned Miraval resort & spa to create and lead the wellness and fitness department. There I was fortunate to work with Celebrities, politicians and business magnates.

Living and working in America has provided us, my family and I, with opportunities I would have never had otherwise living in Algeria or France. America accepted me for who I was, a determined professional who wanted to pursue his dreams.

MM: Why and how did you establish yourself as a life coach and what is it about your philosophy that has made you so successful?

NZ: I first stumbled upon wellness coaching in 2000 while still working as the fitness and wellness director at Miraval. Wellness coaching wasn’t popular at all then. Most guests who came to the resort were there to relax and rejuvenate, not so much to partake in what I call “the obsessive and intimidating traditional fitness programs” such as hardcore aerobic classes or super intense strength training classes.

They wanted to reduce stress and learn more about mindfulness, which is the motto all staff tried to adhere to. I spent almost a decade working at Miraval, and it is there that I was inspired to create an approach that would yield long-lasting results. My Executive InnerFitness® philosophy is based on balance and as the name suggests, the inner aspect of fitness, health and wellbeing, it combines life, fitness and wellness coaching.

It is a non-intimidating and non-threatening method that keeps people not only motivated but also inspired, which can only come from your inner self.

I teach people to step out of an ego state of mind and step into a love state of being. I honestly think people who use my programs or work with me personally at my retreats or call sessions can expect to be inspired, that’s more than motivated as I said earlier. They can expect to take home transformation tools to make long-lasting behavioral changes. In both, life and work. I teach them to connect with their self-worth, self-love, and self-care and to refuel their energy reservoirs so they can eliminate inner conflicts and experience inner peace.

Books, life coaching, and the Mental Health Foundation

MM: You also wrote a book that became a best-seller, so what was the experience of writing it like?

NZ: It was very exciting to write my first book because I was passionate about the subject. As a first-time author with a six-figure advance from a major publishing company such as Warner books, I felt honored. Imagine the son of illiterate North African Berbers whose English was so bad only a few years prior to writing a best seller. This achievement would have been impossible if I was living in France or Algeria. I wrote my book Mind Over Body using a technique I teach called the 90/30 Power Focus™ that helped me remain focused and creative.

MM: You’ve had an awesome career as a bodybuilder and then a life coach, so what have been some of the greatest highlights?

NZ: The highlights of my careers are the countries I visited while competing or working. I always made it a priority to extend my stays in the hosting countries. My belief is that traveling is the antidote to ignorance. I’ve learned so much from other cultures and people. Today I speak five languages because of my willingness and yearning to learn.

MM: How did you get involved with the Mental Health Foundation and how are you contributing to their mission?

NZ: My friend and founder Jerry Avenaim asked me to be a contributor, by taking part and helping the cause. We both are survivors, and we wanted to bring awareness and join the effort to break the stigma.

Too many people suffer in silence not knowing there are ways to live a healthy and happy life with mental disorders. The foundation helps bring awareness using compassion, community, and knowledge to people dedicated to learn and improve their lives. I think that what causes people to be sick, overweight, over-stressed and unhappy is definitely a lack of balance created by complete depletion of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual energy reservoirs. People tend to notice their car engine lights better than their own symptoms when they arise. It is a simple truth I wanted to share.

MM: What are your biggest goals for the overall future of your career as a wellness coach and is there anything else that you would like to add?

NZ: My biggest goal remains the same; to raise awareness and help people make conscious and better choices via my retreats, coaching, speaking, and writing. I have smaller goals like opening health and wellness studios across the United States and maybe abroad. I like to say I’m not here to tell people how to live, think, exercise, eat or sleep but rather how to identify what works best and inspire them to start and keep doing those things so they can live a balanced and healthy life.