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How to reach the next level in Running

Your mind can ensure that you get through your most gruelling runs and workouts, and help you reach the next level, says Nandini Reddy

Strong legs and a solid body are not the only requirements to be a good runner. Every sport requires a strong mind and overcoming a mental challenge can be tougher than physical challenges at times. You mind is the one that will decide if your push harder or give up. That extra set of push-ups and extra km of running happens not because you body is energetic but because your mind refuses to give up.

If you don’t want to throw in the towel, then you need to train your mind with a few tried and tested techniques to reach peak performance.

Visualize

If you know you are about to tackle a tough course or workout then first sit down and visualize the course. Understand the hard parts and imagine yourself pushing through the course. Imagine getting tired and being rejuvenated. You need to get your mind to believe that you are now comfortable while tackling the uncomfortable task. You can coach your mind to deal with discomforts and forget about elements that you cannot control. For example, if the weather changes its not under you control but your attitude to the run despite the weather can be regulated by your mind.

Rewire

Running with intensity isn’t a pleasurable experience. You heart rate is elevated; your lungs are protesting, and your muscles are screaming. When this happens your mind automatically asks you to stop. You start to feel like you are not in shape or don’t have the strength or endurance to take on this challenge. But you can rewire your mind to assess this experience differently. You can drive away the unpleasant thoughts by thinking about the finish line, strengthening your legs and building your stamina.

Feedback

Feedback is an incredible motivation tool that your mind needs, to improve. For one you do not need to look at your GPS watch or attach headphones to your phone that is tracking your run progress. The feedback should come from you mind when you congratulate yourself for crossing check points and remembering to hydrate. Listening to music instead is a great way to relax your mind. Mark off points that you had visualized before the race and mentally pat yourself on your back for your progress.

Divide

Mentally divide and mark the course in your mind. Focus on reaching each mark point instead of aiming straight for the finish line. Mini goals are easier to achieve. You will cross the finish line if you can count your small victories instead of focussing only on crossing the final timing mat.

Memory

If your enthusiasm is flagging mid-run the you need to first recall your previous wins. You have done this before and this is another run like the others is a good thought process to follow instead of telling yourself that you want a break. Tackle steep hills and difficult trails one step at a time. If you have a positive affirmation, even one as simple as ‘I can do this’, repeating it to yourself would be a great way mentally boost your passion.

Mental training techniques can improve your running performance and your ability to tackle tough workouts in a more nuanced way than must focusing on the finish line.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Leadership Lessons from a Marathon

Marathon’s do more than just test your endurance, they give you valuable leadership lessons writes Nandini Reddy

Everyone takes to marathon running for different reasons. Some do it for health purposes, some for passion and some for the challenge they offer. But if you pay closer attention you will realise that it offers you important leadership lessons that you can apply back to your team and business.

Here are the five leadership lessons every marathon teaches you

Determination to execute an idea

Your decision to run a marathon most of the time happens out of the blue. Many runners start from zero at the beginning of a year and end up cracking goal timings by the year end marathon. This achievement usually has relentless training and a methodical plan. In a professional context this applies to executing projects and ideas. Methodical planning, goal-setting and time management are qualities you learn on the running track and can be applied to your work. Focus on the plan and commitment to achieving goals can also be replicated in a work situation.

Step wise approach

When you start training, you begin with a run walk combination and then slowly progress to running short distances then running for a longer time and then finally to running a fully marathon. This step wise approach helps you reach the ambitious goal of completing the distance of 42kms. This same logic applies to teamwork on projects in the office which requires a step-by-step approach to measure progress.

Encouraging others

When you trying to finish such a competitive and high endurance event, encouragement goes a long way. During marathons shouts of encouragement from spectators along the way and even fellow runners can boost your energy when you are struggling along the course and help you cross the finish line. In a corporate environment people spend more time pulling each other down rather than encouraging each other. Only when we mutually encourage each other’s progress can we build a positive work environment.

Avoiding Burnout

Runners know the importance of rest and recovery in between their rigorous training sessions. Injury can lead to frustration. Similarly, in a work situation if we need to achieve our goals for a project you cannot over stress your team and expect high quality work. You need recovery breaks that energise the team and as a runner you will understand the importance of these breaks.

Achieve and Repeat

Its never enough to run a single marathon. Every time you cross the finish line you will be itching to run the next. Marathoners hardly ever say that they never want to run another marathon. Even as they are receiving their medals for completing a marathon, their mind is already planning for the next one. This attitude is important at work and that sort of motivation keeps the creative juices of your team flowing and always ready to take on challenges at work.

Finally, if runners didn’t have fun they would never run. The same applies to your work, if you and your team have fun on the job you are less likely to have attrition and will achieve better results on each project.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Ironman Times Ten

Laura Knoblach, took the Ironman and multiplied it by ten to become the Iron woman in a man’s world, writes Capt Seshadri.

The Ironman is one of the toughest endurance races in the world. While many such competitions are held across the globe, the Ironman World Championship, often acknowledged as the culmination of all of these, is held in the picturesque island of Hawaii, more associated with sand and surfing than endurance events. The course comprises a Waikiki Roughwater swim of 3.86 km, the Around Oahu bicycle race of 185.07 km and the Honolulu Marathon.

Since 1997, athletes with disabilities were allowed to compete in a separate category; however, the cut off times for them were no different from the so called, able bodied competitors. John Maclean of Australia, became the first physically challenged athlete to successfully complete the event.

The Deca Ironman

The Ironman, however, is not the final test of endurance. Introducing the ‘Deca Ironman’! This unbelievably tough and taxing event is meant for a very niche few of master athletes, with extraordinary physical fitness and mental stamina to even consider competing. Here, participants complete the length of ten back to back Ironmans. Obviously, it takes weeks, with each leg being ten times longer than the normal. That constitutes 38.4 km of swimming, 1,792 km of biking and 419.2 km of running.

Here then, is the story of a woman, who rewrote the history books of the Deca. Laura Knoblach, all of 22 years, had already gained lots of experience in marathons and even double and triple Ironmans. But these distance runs and tests of endurance still left her dissatisfied at being unable to realise her potential and her dreams. Urged on by a friend, and realising a ‘beast’ within herself, Laura signed up for that ultimate test of endurance, the Deca Ironman.

Knoblach’s Challenge

Swimming was the first event. It was not just the distance but the ennui of swimming 750 laps of a 50 metre pool. While the specified time was 25 hours, Laura completed it in 19. At the end of it, she didn’t even have the energy to dress or change, almost passing out in the shower. A few hours of rest and it was time to start the biking leg. This was another set of loops, 200 of them over an 8.8km course. It was a nightmarish ordeal of 270 km a day. Often, while cycling at night, Laura would see ghosts… of trees appearing like people out of the darkness.

Now, Laura the endurance athlete, had always been better at biking, so she attempted to finish her forte as quickly as possible before the ten marathons. That was to be another hallucinating effort, having to run 330 laps over a short 1.25 km loops. Boredom and tiredness at its worst! For the first two days, Laura just walked. From Day 3, she began to run. Finally, after 320 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds, a thoroughly exhausted by deliriously happy Laura, crossed the finish line of the Ironman Ten, making history as the youngest to complete this ultimate test of human endurance. And in the process, breaking the US women’s record by over 13 hours.

During the entire stretch, she hardly had six hours of sleep a day. Food and drink were almost a continuous process along the journey. But this unstoppable Iron Lady just couldn’t halt herself. Laura Knoblach spent the next six days biking along the far side of the Rhine, simply to satisfy her curiosity as a tourist!

If there is one thing she proved, it is this: there are no limits to your endurance. When the body says no, let the mind take over.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Running Longer

If you want to run continuously for an hour without taking walk breaks then here is how you can achieve that, writes Nandini Reddy

Running non-stop is a dream every runner wants to achieve. Most find it difficult to run without taking walk breaks in the initial running days. When you start you are on a run-walk schedule until you find your pace, strength and endurance to run longer. As you get better you will be running more and walking less. If you have achieved running for 30 minutes straight and are through to the best time for your 5k runs then you have to hit the next goals of running for 60 mins or more without taking walk breaks. ‘

Here are a few things to keep in mind, if you want to run non-stop:

Create a Run Routine

Ensure you create a running plan and pre-run routine. The running plan will help you mark off goals and track your progress. A pre-run routine should include nutrition and preparation. Ensure you lay out your running gear the night before. Ensure you have bottle of water filled and ready. Plan for a simple snack ahead so that you are not scrambling in the morning. Chart out a warm up routine that you do without fail before the run. The focus should be about getting out and running in the quickest possible manner.

Relax and don’t stress

Running for 60 mins straight is a big goal for all runners. You are already on the right training path to achieve this goal, so now its important to run relaxed. If you start your run stressed then you are less likely to achieve your target. Don’t look at your GPS watch or worry about your pace. Just focus on the distance you need to cover. The idea is to finish the distance and stay energized through the course. The idea is to not run fast and stay positive and motivated through the run. If you stress and wind yourself out before you reach your goal distance and time you will be demotivated to even try again.

Fuel well

Nutrition and hydration will ensure you do not tire fast. Try to eat something 30-60 minutes before you run. You meal should include more carbs and be low on fat and fibre. For hydration stick with water and only choose electrolytes if you plan to run continuously for longer than 60 mins. Good options for a pre-race meal would be bananas, apples, figs, skim milk, cheese or peanut butter on bread.

Stay Committed

The running longer plan builds endurance and the idea for is to run without stopping and without getting hurt. The plan will gradually build so don’t over-stress your body in the first week itself. Fatigue will accumulate so its important to rest and recover. Stay alert for injury and ensure that you get them treated early on so that you do not have to lose time running.

A determined runner will complete his run despite all odds. But the idea is run more than one time. So don’t put all your energy into one run. Ensure that you can run longer for every training run you have chalked into your running diary.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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The runner with the strong wrist – Part 1

Meb Keflezighi, a distance runner who has gained fame for his extraordinary spirit on the course. In this two part series Capt Seshadri profiles this prolific runner

In his long career as a distance runner, this athlete has run 28 international marathons and is believed to have signed more than 30,000 autographs!

In a tiny war-torn country in East Africa, once called Eritrea, which fought a cruel war for over 30 years for liberation from Ethiopia, Mebrahtom ‘Meb’ Keflezighi, was one of 10 children whose early childhood memories were more associated with fatal encounters and dismemberment of his friends and neighbours from warring factions. His first brush with distance running probably occurred at age 10 when he saw his first car and took rapidly to his heels, thinking it was a ‘death machine’. He was later to grin and tell the New York Times: “that was one of the races I lost”. In 1989, at age 14, with his parents having migrated to Italy, Meb watched television for the first time and was left wondering how such big people could get into such a small box.

This was the kid who would ultimately transit from such ignorant beginnings in his home country to becoming a much sought after motivational speaker and brand ambassador to some of the world’s best-known corporates. This is the story that should go down in the annals of sporting history as the marathon of life!

Meb’s family moved to San Diego in 1987 where he began running in earnest. From 5 km and 10 km runs in San Diego High School and UCLA, he graduated both in academics and athletics, winning several medals in championships at the State and then the National levels. With the 2004 marathon silver medal under his belt, he ran on to win the 2009 New York Marathon and then the Boston Marathon in 2014, in the process, bringing gold medal glory to America for the first time after 1982. With this Herculean effort, at an age when most runners are reading about marathons than running them, Meb became the sole marathoner in history to win the New York and Boston Marathons as well as an Olympic medal. He was to continue competitive running at the highest level even at age 41, qualifying for the Rio Olympics 2016.

Setbacks never bothered him as, during the 2008 US Olympic marathon trials, he broke his hip and could not qualify despite finishing eighth, with the debilitating injury.  During the same race, his misery was compounded by the death of his close friend and running mate, Ryan Shay, who died of coronary failure. He rebounded the very next year, winning the 2009 New York Marathon in a personal best time of 2:09:15. In 2010, his achievements were etched in UCLA memory, with his induction into its Hall of Fame.

Runner, writer, trainer, motivational speaker and more. His autobiography titled “Run to overcome” deals with issues of his early life, his milestones and his achievements. MEB Foundation, an acronym of his name that reads ‘Maintaining Excellent Balance’ promotes the values of healthy living and provides a motivational and inspirational platform for school-going youth. In 2014, Meb Keflezighi’s achievements were aptly recognized with the Jesse Owens Award as the USATF Athlete of the Year.

Forty years and running, when even vehicles made of steel are considered vintage.

Read Nine Days a week for the conclusion of this story

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Dealing with ‘Mom Guilt’

The real issue preventing mom’s from running isn’t fitness or time, its Mother’s Guilt, says Nandini Reddy

Mothers tend to plan their days around their children. It doesn’t matter if you are a working mother or a stay-at-home mother, you will be burdened with mom-guilt every time you take time out to yourself. If you were to poll a 100 mothers who were runners and have stopped or slowed down now, most of them would tell you they stopped because they felt guilty about taking time off for themselves.

So what prevents you from taking the time?

If you really want to find alone time to run then early mornings are the best. The family is asleep and you have enough time to train. But there is also the issue of safety and getting enough hours of sleep. While the struggle is real there are options. If you want to start running, try running in your apartment building. Running in circles may be better than not running at all. After you gain confidence then you can hit the road if you live in a safe neighbourhood or alternatively drive to a location that has a good population of runners. You can also consider running on a treadmill on days that you cannot get outside to run. But its important to ensure that your guilt doesn’t become your excuse to stop running.

Plan ahead with your partner

If you are serious about using running as your fitness regime then you need to get your family involved. Lay out a schedule and ensure that your partner is aware of it so that he can step in when you need the time to run. New moms can use the babies sleep timing to sneak in a run. Ensure that you family or partner are around to watch the baby for an hour and prep whatever they need to handle the situation while you run to your happy place.

Use the weekends

Weekends can be used for evening runs. You can also involve your kids in an interval style so that you can get enough exercise and your children will enjoy it as well. You can also train for longer hours and let you children sleep in. The idea here is to enjoy yourself and not keep thinking that your house is burning down without you.

Embrace your runner persona

I heard someone say that you become a better runner when you become a mother and a better mother when you become a runner. It is important that you embrace different aspects of your personality. You need to accept that you are a mother and a runner and neither roles needs to be compromised. You will be happier and more prepared to take on challenges when you embrace the different parts of your life instead of ignoring one for the other.

Taking time to run is not selfish. All moms deserve to have time to dedicate to their fitness.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Taming the Beast

Marathoner, Tarun Walecha, takes another look at the grit, determination and madness it takes to finish marathons.

All that can go wrong at a marathon which I didn’t know about…

A year before when I wrote the prelude to this blog, I had thought to myself that I have learnt all I needed to, made my set of mistakes, even wrote a blog about the same which was well appreciated, and now it would be my year of redemption. As it turns out, I was certainly being overly ambitious.

Having finished five full marathons so far, somehow, I still feel I’m yet to run my first. Last week I was at the starting line again, but this time I was better equipped, better trained, (at least, I thought so) and little bit more confident for sure. I say a little bit because this time I was aiming higher and didn’t want to be complacent. I had ticked all the boxes from the learning last year, be that diet, training schedule, staying injury free and included newer aspects like on course nutrition, flexibility etc.

Unlike last time where I was aiming to finish the run on a moderate pace, this time I was greedy. I had trained harder and had all the reasons to back myself, one of my longest run on Dec 31 which came after 6 days of consecutive half marathon runs under my initiative, ‘Share and Care’ was comfortable and surprisingly speedy. The 28K run on Trail-A-Thon, which I ran a controlled pace but yet was my fastest so far on the course too. I believed that the glory beckoned me and nothing could go wrong, so so I thought.

 

The race day twists and turns…

On the morning of February 25, a 4:30 start meant I didn’t have much time to sleep the night before. I therefore took it easy the previous day in anticipation and was up at 2:30 am without feeling sleep deprived. As I walked toward the stadium from the parking lot, my mind was only filled with positive thoughts and trust in myself, just a hint of anxiety, nothing nerve wrecking. After a quick chat-up with everyone around, handshakes and wishes exchanged; it was going as per the familiar course. So much that an unannounced staggered start didn’t flutter me a bit, and at 4:35 we trotted across the timing mat.

As I started off, I had the plan distinctively clear in my mind, pace chart, nutrition chart, hydration – all ticking off in my mind. Normally, I run as per my effort and only check later how am I doing and it wasn’t going to be any different this time as well. Moving along I felt comfortable, staying focused on myself I could sense I’m doing well. At 10K mark when I checked, I was 1 min 32 sec ahead of my target time. I felt good as there were no signs of over exertion, stride was good and breathing was in control. I decided to hold on to the effort till my next target. As expected at 20K I was 3 min and 40 sec ahead, which was invigorating as I felt no sign of fatigue or mental exhaustion. When I turned around for my second loop, I didn’t want to let go and wanted to seize the advantage. Trotting along, at 30K mark I was doing well, heart rate in check, pace was descent and now I was 4 min and 9 sec ahead of scheduled time.

Quickly running through calculations in back of my mind like always, I ascertained that even if I was to run the rest of the race at 6:00 min pace I would be home with a Sub 4 finish, and I was immensely thrilled with that outcome.

But the best laid plans always come to naught…

As I reached the 32k mark, I started feeling sluggish. My pace had dropped to 5:55. Going back to my calculations, and accommodating for tiring body I told myself to stick to sub 6 pace. As I moved along I felt my stride getting shorter and every KM mark I could see the pace sliding down. At 38K mark when my Garmin showed 6:19 lap pace with a total time 3:34:53, my mind quickly computed that my desired calculation of Sub 4 wasn’t possible now. With 4.2KM of minimum distance to be run, I would have had to really push myself against the odds. Suddenly the hamstring niggle which surfaced slightly earlier filled my legs with lead and my left leg refused to move. I decided to give it a break and stretch a little before moving on, but as luck would have, I found it tough to get back in rhythm. Was it my body which was breaking, or did my mind gave up on me, I’m yet to figure that out. Slowly I watched each runner whom I had left behind passing by, some acknowledged and egged me but I could only cheer them back and asked to them to move on. This was my battle, and I had to fight it on my terms. I hopped along for next 4k, and somehow gathered strength to run for the last half a km to keep my head high. Timing clock at the finishers gate showed that I was nearly 11 min over 4 hrs as I crossed over and moved towards the holding area. Friends, other finishers, each one of them welcomed me with high fives, hugs and smiles, but somehow I in my heart carried a shade of disappointment.

Will I ever understand how to conquer it?

The race was over, I did fairly well as per many, timing wasn’t that bad either, but what left me unhappy was those last 4 kilometer. I wasn’t supposed to struggle, I was there to run. So what went wrong, that is my biggest mystery. Did I not train enough, or did I give up on myself too soon? In the days to come, pondering over each of the issue, I tried to pinpoint at various probabilities, and evaluated them against myself.

  1. Inadequate training: Going by my training year before where I struggled with niggles now and then, I induced more strength workout in my schedule. One of the reason my hamstring started jarring could yet be due to relatively lesser strength training.
  2. Aggressive target: From my target last year to finish a moderate paced FM to running an aggressive Sub 4, might sound a big leap but my training runs backed me up and somewhere I was hopeful of cracking it.
  3. Over-Nutrition on the course : I had planned to take gels in a tapering pattern of 9k, 8k, 8k, 7k, 7k considering the higher needs as one tires out. Energy boost after first one lured me to change it to 7k from second gel onward. At 30K I did feel nauseated and over fed, so much that I couldn’t have my fifth gel.
  4. Lack of salt intake: Gel at shorter intervals meant lesser time in between, and the first causality of time management was salt caps which I didn’t have after my first 2, and in all had only 3.
  5. Less water consumption: Though my earlier experiences had alarmed me about this, having trained in pleasant weather failed me on understanding my body’s water requirement on the race day.
  6. Rise in temperature: It was an odd situation, adding to the above point, the entire training was done in winters with running the race in spring. The week before the race saw a sudden rise in temperature which showed the damage it can do to your hydro-logical balance.
  7. Running faster than the plan: Since I’ve always run by the effort, on the race day I landed up running a shade faster than the planned pace, was it my undoing? Can’t say yet as my heart rate remained in the control zone and barely touched Zone 5.
  8. Lack of focus: That’s something that may not be the root cause , but can certainly be a reason to deflate the overall effort. To be in ‘the zone’ for 42 km, is something that still has a long way to go, perhaps.
  9. Lack of flexibility: This was another aspect which I targeted after last year’s debacle, worked extensively and consciously, but the awareness only highlighted gray areas; certainly more work needed.
  10. Lack of guidance /knowledge: How much is enough??? I certainly can never judge.

Mind over body…

While this can be your strength, but can work against you as well. For everything that you may cover, this could be a blanket loss. If I did not falter on any of the above, then it has to be this. Was this the reason that I stumbled? Did that one look at my watch at 38K which showed 3:34:53 blow it up? One little back hand calculation and I knew I had practically lost my chance for a Sub 4, and suddenly it didn’t matter anymore.

The mystery that I wished to unravel this time, to decode what it takes to run a marathon, still remains a mystery. After 34 Half marathons, many more equivalent distance runs and 5 attempts at FM, I still have to know what it takes. Lest I forget, I need to reiterate to myself, it is not just two half marathons, it is not just another long run. I don’t know what it is yet, but I will soon.

The beast still stares at me, with a little smirk on its face, but I know we are friendlier now and it’s just a matter of time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An architect by profession, Tarun Walecha enjoys amateur photography, travelling and is a sports enthusiast. He has been a sportsperson all his life and discovered running at the age of 40 and has since become his fitness mantra. In his 7 year running career he has completed 30 Half Marathons, 4 Full Marathon, and 5 Trail/Ultra Runs. He is also a Pinkathon ambassador and has founded the running group, RunXtreme.

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Game. Set. And unmatched.

Capt Seshadri encountered a determined athlete in Madhu Bagri, who only believed in excelling no matter what the odds.

We watch Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal slug it out on the courts. Athletes supreme, fitness and endurance a byword in sport. And yet, even they are falliable, succumbing every once in a while, to mental fatigue and bodily injury. What then of a young woman, born with a disability, facing physical pain and psychological pressure and yet making a mark on the international tennis scene?

Infantile polio confined her to a wheelchair from the tender age of 18 months. Later, at age 11, a spinal surgery kept her in bed for three years. Her family literally gave up on her. But her spirit remained unchained. The indomitable spirit of Madhu Bagri, India’s first international woman wheelchair tennis player. A brave young woman who has faced extreme odds of being born different, into a family who knew next to nothing about coping with her problem, and a sibling with an outright abhorrence of her difference.

Madhu went through school but had to stop after her surgery; much against her desire, the family wanted her to quit studying further. Alone but undaunted, she pursued her studies through distance education and graduated in Commerce, undeniably proud of her academic achievement. Says Madhu: “That phase of my life was akin to waging a world war. Wherein I was at one end and everyone else at the other and the fight was bitter and brutal. Everyone including my family asked me to quit my studies and just accept life as it was. But I never gave up and I fought against all odds to complete my studies and I did so with flying colours.”

The Journey Begins

In her early years, she had always evinced a great deal of interest in sport, unfortunately never having heard about para sports or even imagined physically impaired people being able to indulge in any kind of sporting activity. Still, she used to spend hours in her backyard in Ahmedabad, in a wheelchair, playing badminton, and willing herself to reach the shuttle every time.

Having graduated and wanting to pursue a career, Madhu worked in a few organisations and even tried to venture out on her own in business. However, like her earlier years of study, her career journey too was not a pleasant one. Poor infrastructure, miles of red tape and an indifferent attitude by those around her were major stumbling blocks. The turning point in her life came about in 2012 when she decided to revive her long ignored but still burning passion for sport. It was only after she joined a badminton academy that she realised that there was something called sport for the disabled. She never looked back.

Unstoppable Athlete

Although she had been playing badminton, tennis was her first love and it had been a dream to be able to play the game. A casual question by a coach spurred her to take up wheelchair tennis; within a few months of commencing training, she qualified to play international tournaments. Pramesh Modi, a tennis coach, spotted her ability and the fire in her to excel against odds. Under his tutelage, in a short span of three years, she won the national championship twice. From the time she took up the sport, she has participated in ten international tournaments, finishing second in one of them. In the process, Madhu Bagri has earned the distinction of being the first woman to represent India in a wheelchair tennis tournament for women and also the first to be ranked internationally in ITF wheelchair tennis.

Madhu has quietly lived on her own for the past 14 years or so, preparing to play more tournaments in the coming years. To further strengthen her muscles, she has taken to swimming, under the instruction of her coach. Her inspiration to dream and aim higher stems from the fact that not just differently-abled sports-persons, but even able-bodied people are motivated by her courage, enthusiasm and never say die spirit.  Game, set and match indeed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Standing tall – from a wheelchair

Capt Seshadri tells us the extraordinary story of Para-Olympian Deepa Malik who brought home the silver medal from Rio, in 2016.

This is a saga of unbelievable courage and the will to win against all odds. Set in the backdrop of the Kargil war, when a brave army Colonel was fighting for his country, back home, his wife was fighting for her life.

This is the true story of a woman with indomitable spirit, who simply refused to give up.  Army daughter, army wife and mother of two, Deepa Malik was diagnosed with a tumour in the spinal cord that required 3 major surgeries and 183 stitches between her shoulders. Paralyzed from below the waist, she was destined to be consigned to a wheelchair for life. Her elder daughter was in need of special care with a motor disability called hemiplegia. But nothing could daunt this extraordinary woman who simply refused to look helplessly upon life as a paraplegic. While most able bodied sports persons would be content with success in a single sport, Deepa began a multi-faceted sports career at 36, an age when most sportspeople retire.  Over the next few years, she became a champion biker, swimmer, rally driver and athlete, creating and breaking records in every sport that she attempted.

The Unstoppable Spirit 

Her old passion for biking was rekindled and, with a ‘quad’ bike modified to her specifications, she enrolled with the Himalayan Motorsports Association and the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India. Over an 8 day period, in rarefied atmosphere and sub zero temperatures, at an altitude of 18,000 feet, she rode her bike through 1,700 km, the first woman to undertake such an arduous journey. In 2013, Deepa biked 3,278 km from Chennai to Delhi, the longest ever drive by a paraplegic woman.

Discovering that her shoulders needed strengthening to help with her biking, she took to swimming, little realizing what she was about to achieve. In her S1 category, she holds national records in 3 styles – freestyle, breast and back stroke. Breaking away from the limitation of a swimming pool, she plunged into the Yamuna river and swam against the current for a distance of 1 km.

Her competitive spirit soon turned to a new area. For 19 months, Deepa relentlessly fought for a licence for an invalid person’s modified rally vehicle and followed it up with an FMSCI rallying licence for competitive driving, both firsts for any physically challenged person. Her grit and determination saw her complete two of the toughest rallies in the world – the Raid de Himalaya in 2009 and the Desert Storm in 2010.

The Big Win

In 2016, at age 46, Deepa won a silver in the Paralympics in the shot put, becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal in these Games. Currently, she holds national records in the F53 category in the shot put, discus and javelin throws and the Asian record in the javelin. Between 2010 and 2012, Deepa was ranked first in Asia in all the three throws; at the world level, she ranked second in the shot put and third in the javelin and discus throws.

Overall, Deepa Malik has won 58 national and 18 international medals in various disciplines. Not one to rest on her laurels, she also actively works to highlight the needs of other paraplegic sportspersons to the authorities, with great success. For her achievements in swimming, she won the Arjuna Award in 2012. Her untiring work in contributing to sport and her fighting spirit against pain and disability to make a mark on the world stage, won her the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2017.

Deepa had this to say on winning her 2016 Paralympics silver: “I hope my journey and the medal can serve as an inspiration for differently-abled individuals to break out from their social boundaries and pursue their dreams.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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