“I was riding a motorcycle and a van made a left turn into me and crushed my left leg,” Ekbatani , 29, tells PEOPLE of the accident that changed his life. “It was severed at the seams. I don’t have much recollection of it, but I remember waking up in a hospital bed and being told that my leg had been amputated.”
Ekbatani didn’t let losing his leg crush his spirits, but admits he lived in “pure denial” for the months following his accident.
“Everything in my life that I’ve been through and what I’ve learned from being an athlete trained me to keep my chin up and keep going and persevere,” he says. “At the time, the 2012 Summer Olympics were going on, and Oscar Pistorius was in front of me running on two prosthetic legs, so I had a lot of hope. I kind of denied the potential consequences of losing my leg. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to be an athlete or move like I used to. I think that’s what’s helped me heal.”
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But the road to recovery wasn’t easy. It’s taken 14 surgeries to heal his leg, with his last surgery taking place four years after the accident. After three years, Ekbatani was finally able to use a prosthetic leg, and started taking group cycling classes since he couldn’t yet do anything that would put impact on his leg.
“I would get on the spin bike and just ride with my prosthetic, and I was actually getting better on the bike,” he says. “I’d ride in classes and people would say, ‘You’re really inspirational, you should teach the classes.’ So I went and got certified and started teaching, and since then it’s become my main thing.”
Ekbatani now teaches cycling classes at Cycle House’s Santa Monica and West Hollywood locations.
“It’s been really fulfilling to me,” he says. “I was super depressed when I was sitting at home recovering from surgery, so the thought of having a job that was purposeful and inspiring people, and getting to do what I love, which is working out and staying fit, it really fired me up. Since then, it’s become very real. It was an idea and something that I wanted, and it’s really happening now. I don’t feel like I work because I love what I do. It makes me feel connected, and every single class makes me feel like I’m on a team again.”