How Iron Biby Found and Used Strength to Overcome Childhood Bullying

A recent BBC News story covered the story of strongman athlete Cheick Ahmed al-Hassan Sanou, or “Iron Biby” as he’s known to many and social media. In their story, they write about Sanou’s upbringing, the struggles he had early on in childhood due to bullying because he was overweight, and how he eventually found strength to be one of his strongest assets in life.

If you’re new to Sanou, or “Iron Biby” in this case, then sit back and relax because this news story does a phenomenal job of giving context into the athlete he is. Also, we’ve written about him before, and most recently covered his “strict” press of 220kg (485 lbs).

“My brothers used to call me Biby and the name followed me around, but when I started becoming known for powerlifting, I became Iron Biby.”

Like other strongman competitors, Sanou knew from a young age that he was slightly larger than his peers, and in this case even as a baby. In the BBC News story he said, “My mum said I was big from birth – weighing almost 5kg and breathing heavily – not like a baby”. 

In his youth, Sanou had aspirations to be a sprinter, and even though he was fast, he didn’t have it easy. He told BBC News, “Whenever I ran, and my body would wobble, the kids at school would laugh so much and point at me calling me ‘Fat Boy’. It was as if I was entertainment to them, so I gave up on that – but I never stopped wanting to be an athlete.”

In addition to sprinting, gymnastics also caught Sanou’s eye. He loved the idea of doing flips and acrobatic feats, but was met again with bullying due to the sounds his body would make when it hit the floor. This didn’t stop Sanou from practicing though, as he would still work gymnastics at home with the help of his older brother.

At the age of nine, BBC News reports that Sanou had grown accustomed to the regular bullying for his size. He told them, “I hated myself for being that way – I was the youngest in my class, yet I looked four years older than everyone else, including my older brothers.”

Sanou’s teenage years were no different, and in high school he stood out pretty remarkably from his peers. At 16, Sanou weighed around 122kg (268 lbs), stood 6′ 2″, and had a 48″ inch chest, which is larger than a fair amount of grown men, but it was at this time Sanou would learn just how strong he was.

He recalls a story in the news report about an older boy who taunted him regularly. Sanou explained, “I was frustrated – I said: ‘Leave me alone,’ and pushed him away, but he flew across the room and he was shocked. I was shocked too, but I knew that day that I had some power – he never bothered me again.”

Although Sanou knew he possessed natural strength and power, he was still driven to lose weight throughout his teenage years. It wasn’t until 2009 when Sanou traveled to Canada to complete his secondary education that everything would come full circle. He made his school’s basketball team, and soon after realized that his natural size, strength, and power were actually good qualities, especially in sports.

Yet, it wasn’t until University that Sanou would find his love for lifting. When he attended his local gym he notes in the news report, “I noticed that a lot of people in the gym struggled to lift the heavy weights, but for me they were relatively easy.” This realization soon led to Sanou becoming well-known in his local area, and he started performing feats professional powerlifters were doing.

Fast forward to 2013 and Sanou found himself entered in his first powerlifting meet, which he easily won before going on to win the national championship later that year.

Currently, Sanou is training as a strongman athlete, and has high goals set for himself. In the BBC News story he says, “My plan is to be the strongest human being on earth and to take the title of world strongest man to Burkina Faso.”

Those are high aspirations for the 24 year old Sanou, but with his high motivation and strong training, maybe we’ll see him standing on the World’s Strongest Man podium in the upcoming years.

Feature image from @ironbiby Instagram page. 

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Jake Boly :Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and has published over 750 articles related to strength athletes and sports. On the side, he's a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and NYC.