Protima Tiwary talks to Xavier Pushparaj on how he overcame his own obstacles and injuries to conquer the Devils Circuit.
After facing a rough time while growing up, Xavier Pushparaj found himself down with injuries that made it impossible for him to move. Today, even with life-threatening injuries, he pushes himself daily and takes an active part in endurance sports, with the motto “If pain doesn’t take a day off, why should I? “ We met him at the competitive leg of the Devils Circuit and were inspired enough to have this quick chat. Read on to know his emotional, difficult yet inspiring journey.
You’ve had quite an emotional start to this life of fitness. Could you share that with us?
I was always an active child, but that changed when I was 8 years old. I lost my father to a cardiac arrest and withdrew from society. I was bullied (for not having a father!) I, who had been a topper until then, was failing all my classes. Karate was the only thing I was excelling at, I guess that is where my anger was being directed. I got my black belt in Goju Ryu, won tournaments, learnt nunchucks and practised Taekwondo. I became the school team captain in the throwball and kabaddi teams, represented the school in cricket and even started sprinting. I made sports my life.
One thing that I did that I am not proud of is that I beat up my bullies. I became aggressive, and my relationships with friends and at home were strained. In my 11th I became a school rebel and got beaten up almost daily. I never told my mother about this, didn’t want her to worry about me. I started drinking and smoking, and eventually bunking school to do this. My mother found out, I was made to change schools, but my behaviour stayed the same. I will be forever grateful to my mother and language teacher who made me work hard and secure a seat in automobile engineering.
Things improved for a bit, but then I went back to my old habits. Since I wasn’t playing sports, I started going to the gym. It was during this time that I injured myself.
What was the injury about?
I miscalculated the height, flipped and completely, permanently shattered my ATFL ligament. Not being able to move or workout had me going into a depression. I became an alcohol addict. Seeing my mother and sister break down after seeing my condition hurt me, and that’s when I decided to change. Jan 2014 is when I truly started this fitness journey.
What has your transformation been like?
I went from 41kgs to 69kgs, developed a healthy relationship with food, focused on mental health and gained a lot of strength and endurance in this process. I also started getting people along with me to workout, took a few dance classes at the local gym, and this is when I realised I wanted to train people. It was during one workout when I heard a pop in my back after which I couldn’t stop up. Turns out I had :
- Spina Bifida
- Bilateral spondylolysis
- Pars defect
- Two-disc herniations
Basically, my nerves were compressed, I was in immense pain and could not work out anymore.
You fought through the pain, and now coach people to do the same. Tell us more about it?
After going through tons of MRIs and knowing that being operated is the only way to reduce pain (that is if the operation is successful; this surgery has a low success rate) I decided to pay attention to fitness as a whole. I got myself certified as a personal trainer from ACE (American Council on Exercise) because I wanted to help people with pain management. I started training clients, sometimes even giving free workout routines to those with injuries because I know what it feels like to be in pain. Since I myself love endurance sports, I made sure I took part in whatever I could. Of course, I’d listen to my body, because I know what the repercussions can be. But listening to my body and thinking positively is what made it possible for me to take part in endurance sports.
Training people to manage pain is what I want to do in life, I’m living my dream. I want people to enjoy good health, and be able to get out of pain without any fear. I have coached people who’ve come out of knee and back surgeries (after they were given a medical clearance of course) Even if I can’t move, I want to help others live their fitness dreams. I’m going to stand by them and support them.
Currently, I am preparing for CSCS so that I can help more sportspersons.
What do you have to say to those who are dealing with an injury or chronic condition?
You can’t train right now, but there’s a whole life ahead of you. This is a phase that shall pass and you will come back stronger. Injury has a lot to teach us if you think about it. It means we’ve done something incorrectly, and we need to learn the right way. It’s a warning that something worse can happen. Learnt the cause of the injury! Rest well. Eat well. Sleep. Give up bad habits. Focus on self-care. Take rehab seriously. Be patient!
If you wish to participate in sports, feel free to do so only after you have had your fitness levels checked by a professional.
How do you recommend people should train for an endurance sport after injury?
Here’s a Training Module I can help with-
CARDIO for WARM-UP – This helps elevate your body temperature
DYNAMIC WARM-UP – This opens up joints to increase mobility.
REHAB – This activates and strengthens the injured area
TRAIN MOVEMENTS – Train the muscles that your sport/ race involves
ASSISTANT EXERCISES – This facilitates the movement training
STATIC STRETCHING AND COOL DOWN – This brings your body temperature back to normal and enhances recovery and minimises soreness.
- Walk/ slow jog/ jump for 7 minutes
- Internal and external rotation exercises for your hips and shoulders and flexion/extension exercises for your knees, ankles and spine.
- Do rehab exercises for the injured part of the body
- Do the following train movements – Squats (bodyweight), Kettlebell swings, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Lunges, Farmers walk, Bear crawl hold and Dead-hang.
Do these in a circuit, if possible, to improve cardiovascular endurance. Add outdoor running and walking to your routine to stay active. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down