Assimilating the everyday

After a stroll in central Mumbai this morning, I stopped to have some chai. The morning rays were pleasant yet sharp. The tea-seller was doing business as usual. There was a tiny entry next to his stall which looked like a walkway into a room where he lives. A younger man walked out of that walkway, rubbing his eyes.

His first question to his tea-seller father was “Pakistan ne kuch kiya? (Did Pakistan do anything?)” Everyone in the city and my Nation is aware and conscious of what is happening at the border and beyond. There is hope for the best. You probably came across different versions on news channels. I do not intend to bombard you with more. Opinions are all over the place, you have the right to have yours.

Today is a significant day and all of us are waiting for a hero to return home.  

The conversation I overheard this morning rekindled my emotions from an event not so long ago. A fortnight has passed since the terrorist attack in Pulawama. I was in Bengaluru photographing an employee wellness run the Sunday after the attack. I intended to write about the Empower Run the day it happened but could not get around to it until today.

The Empower Run, is an employee engagement initiative by Accenture and is entwined with its Corporate Social Responsibility. I have been a freelance sports photographer for a while now and covered a reasonable number of events. I continue to do these assignments for multiple reasons. The biggest is to connect to real, raw and unstaged emotions that sport usually highlights.

Here’s my interpretation of the Empower Run. I imagine whoever coined the name must have thought “Em(ployee) power Run, why not? Right!” It is exactly what it seemed like to me. As an observer, there was so much to take in. We all know health is wealth. What follows comes from what I saw and connected with on the day and will continue to hold relevance in my heart. 

‘Empower’, for starters, is such a beautiful word, it means: ‘make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.’ I wonder if the thought leaders behind the event took the word literally. It sure seemed like that. 

I could see the employees and employers breathing fresh air outside tall concrete buildings in which they work every day. That Sunday morning felt truly empowered. #MyWellBeing was inscribed on their T-shirts and they picked a reason for why they were out there that morning.

Self-awareness and being responsible for something they truly feel for, a beautiful concept super simply displayed and clearly encouraged meaningfully. That morning, the employees had a choice. They could participate by walking, running or walking & running various distances from 2.5km to 10km. The idea was not competition; it was about camaraderie and that was in display aplenty.

It stuck with me because it was an enabler, it helped people get out on a Sunday to spend time beyond the walls of their offices. While at it, they were made conscious of how important their own well-being was.

Such initiatives help start a new journey for many. With no pressure of time to complete or competition, and choice of distance, the outing allowed them to do what they wanted. And they did it in support of a cause that is/was close to their heart. The organisers encouraged them to write down what the employees were running for.

It was heart touching to see them wear their thoughts on their bibs. Writing makes one think. Writing makes one belong to a thought that could be fleeting. Thoughts I saw, ranged from Self Improvement to Women Empowerment and mental illness, amongst others but the most common one was: “In support of the CRPF Jawans”.  

The moment I saw the first bib, emotions swirled in my heart. It made me smile and sad at the same time. The people I saw that Sunday did not just write on their bibs because someone else did. I believe they did it in true, unwavering support and respect for those brave jawans, who keep us safe, and their families. I believe everyone in India is aware and concerned about their well-being. It is challenging to write further as I am truly out of words for the heroes, the real heroes. 

All of us may not be able to live every day in the spirit that they do. The spirit of the Indian Armed Forces whose motto is Service before Self. We can however remind ourselves constantly that they put their service before themselves for us, for our well-being. They are doing everything they can to keep us safe. We could honor them in a small way by being aware of our well-being by taking little steps.

JAI HIND! 

Pain is NOT normal; push the limits sensibly

Ouch it hurts, but I was told it is normal. 

I have heard this many a time. From athletes willing to invest in sport and exercise or give it a try for its benefits. These athletes usually set themselves targets because they themselves want to or someone around them suggested it. Some sign up for big events as they want to prove they can or are driven into it because of well marketed events.

All this is great. Yet, after listening to many tales of agony, I am left wondering. While their drive to be fit and exercise helps them get healthy and be more productive, how many of these athletes are causing themselves more damage than good?  

Take, for example, Ram (name changed) who signed up for the Goa IronMan 70.3 scheduled in October this year. He has 10 months to train and signed up with a coach who has done a couple of IronMan events before and mentioned that Triathlon aspirants are his forte.

It has been three years since Ram had an active lifestyle. Life took over then and kept him busy with a desk job. Ram took on this challenge to get back to fitness and have a feasible target while at it.  It was all very exciting until Ram could not stick to the schedule proposed by his coach.

He tried, he was in pain. He gave himself a few days’ break, tried again and pushed himself to get moving and he was in pain again. Even easy workouts were painful. His coach told him pain is normal and he would get better and insisted that he continue.

Ram wanted to find a solution and have his cycling analysed to be sure it was not leading to problems. It was his strongest sport and he still could not complete a workout without agony. We met and I realised during the physical assessment that his body is not ready for the rigour he wished to put it under.

I expressed my concerns as I could tell that he really needed to work on strength to be able to achieve his target. I could see a lot going on and had to tell him he needs to see a sports physiotherapist soon before injury could sabotage his plans. He saw a specialist sports physio who advised him strength training before endurance training. 

Ram is part of a small fraction of athletes who consult specialists and do not neglect niggles, but the majority in India follows what worked for a friend or a friend’s friend. In most cases the person providing advice and suggestions has been on the path and believes he/she knows everything they need to know.

What is usually forgotten is that every human body is unique and has undergone unique experiences that will be highlighted when it is put through overload, theories behind training plans could be generalised but are not a one size fits all.

Athletes with ambition grit their teeth and follow a regimen proposed despite pain because they are led to believe it is normal. Until it is too late and injuries which sometimes take a very long time to heal become their constant companions.

I know from experience, personal and professional, that pain is not normal. The human brain is smarter than we usually give it credit for. Allowing it to distinguish between discomfort from fatigue after a heavy exercise and pain, will go a long way in keeping the body away from trauma.  

If you have a fitness target in mind, please remember the following:

  • You are unique, both your body and you’re circumstances.  
  • Pain is NOT normal, fatigue is different from pain, recognise the difference
  • Set realistic targets, don’t be in a rush
  • What worked for your friend/coach may not work for you, know when it is not and respond accordingly
  • If you are suffering badly, something is wrong, trust your instincts don’t neglect them
  • Consult with a specialist, he/she is cheaper than lost time and expensive medical bills
  • Push your limits, but sensibly. 

Indian cycling, are we progressing?

Photo in The Times of India, January 30, 2019

There are a lot of Indians who cycle for a living, for fun, for health and or for the sheer joy it brings. There is a huge range of cycles and cyclists in our country. The range and variety available offers cycling a very dynamic ecosystem.

The majority of cyclists in India are those who rely on a cycle for their living like the doodhwalas (milkmen), postmen, farmers etc. There are some who take it upon themselves to cycle all the time, go through a rigorous training regimen and work on the watts and calories and everything else that would make them faster by doing whatever is best known to them and or their coaches.

Obviously, the numbers of the latter bunch are not as much as those who use a cycle to commute or do their chores each day, but they are significant in their own way. These bring pride and glory to the country. 

Cycling Federation of India is the governing body and conducts competitions in various categories on a regular basis. There are affiliated State associations along with independent cycling clubs in some cities to keeping the community active. Some cities in India even have Bicycling Mayors to champion cycling in their cities.

While there is a lot of concern about safety and one becomes aware of accidents and cyclists losing lives every other day, the ‘crazy’ cyclists who commit themselves and give it their all to chase their dreams of medalling at National and international events need a pat on their back. I can hear you say “Of course, they must be getting the accolades they deserve.”

Unfortunately, it may not be entirely true.

To provide a background, each State association, Services and Railways sports boards conduct competitions and only the best cyclists compete in the Nationals. As much as we hope they are all treated like champions, newspapers have reported more than once that the facilities they are provided are far from what they deserve.

Here’s some evidence from today’s newspapers. 

Article in The Times of India, January 30, 2019

 

Going by the article in today’s newspaper, there is deep concern. Yes, undeniably there is a lot of effort going on to improve the state of affairs in Indian sports. Maybe cycling is not one of the sports in focus? If it is not, I wonder why not.

Here are some reasons why I believe cycling should not be neglected.

If one is to think about health and improving life, cycling has great benefits. I know stories of people who started cycling and hence gave up alcohol and/or smoking, lost weight, lead happy and fulfilling lives and are more positive. Even in terms of economy, cycling is a huge industry.

We know that encouraging cyclists will only help reduce pollution and create safe commutable cities and towns. Cycling can also bring in tourism. No prizes for guessing that if cycling is given its due, it will create more champions in the sport and put us on the international cycling map, where we hardly exist with a few exceptions.  

A recent post in Cycling Federation of India’s Facebook page showcasing international success

Cyclists who reached Jaipur to compete will not complain as they would be risking their careers but isn’t is unfair that they are expected to race and race well given the conditions in which they are made to stay? There is enough and more research that shows the significance of sleep on performance but has that changed the basics that are missed out and messed around with? 

The article also makes me wonder, who is responsible? Is it the organisers at the State-level? The Rajasthan Cycling Association? Or is it the Cycling Federation of India, affiliated to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Indian Olympic Association? Is it the coaches/team managers or the athletes themselves?

The hosts are supposed to provide accommodation for National-level competitions but there seems to be a significant discrepancy. Who can help these athletes find better accommodation so they can get a good night’s sleep before each race? Hearteningly, the Ministry has stepped in to tell the Rajasthan Cycling Association through CFI to improve things. But should it have needed an outrage in the first place?

Sports photography: smooth execution comes from good preparation, Bengaluru Open 2018

A host of Indian players were seen in action in the Bengaluru Open 2018

A month ago, from November 12 to 17, the $150,000 Bengaluru Open 2018, South Asia’s biggest ATP Challenger event was hosted in the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA), which sits inside beautiful Cubbon Park in the heart of India’s garden city and a fast-growing sports hub. Continue reading “Sports photography: smooth execution comes from good preparation, Bengaluru Open 2018”

Coaching: Not just an ‘on paper’ job but a key cog in the wheel

The country’s apex sporting body announced today that it has employed 11 Olympic and three Paralympic athletes as coaches. It makes me wonder why.

Decisions such as these expose the depth in rationalizing, or the lack thereof, within the system. It is important to note that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) press release acknowledges that some of these athletes are still pursuing their competitive career.Is giving them responsibilities as “coaches” the only way to keep them associated with the sport? Continue reading “Coaching: Not just an ‘on paper’ job but a key cog in the wheel”

My running journey

When I enrolled to become a sport physiologist, I had no idea I would be in the labs, testing on cycling ergometers and treadmills as much as I did. I did not have any experience on them myself, not until I realised they are key testing equipment.

I was always active, exercise being an excuse to get outdoors, not into a room of machines. The gym, in my mind then, was for those who did not want to get out, but in a cold country where it rains almost all the time, a gym membership was the norm. Not an exception. Continue reading “My running journey”