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Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 3

Deepthi Velkur continues her conversation with Naveen John about his competitive cycling career.

You must read Part1 and Part2 of this interview before this.

You play a very important leadership role at the Ciclo Racing Team – what is the main objective behind Ciclo? How has the journey been so far?

The idea behind Ciclo was to setup an aspirational project, with the goal of supporting the best athletes in the country, while also developing young athletes’ side-by-side.

In a sport like cycling or for that matter any endurance sport you need a strong team, a good coach who can show you physical progression, mentor you on how you can progress beyond the national level and the emotional support of your friends and family.

Over the years, I have tried a couple of models to figure out what works in India. In 2012-2014, I was part of a team that was based on the model where there was a manager/team director who does the fund-raising and planning of the calendar and multiple athletes who had focus solely on riding. The problem with this model is that when a sponsor backs out, the athletes are left high and dry and they haven’t really grown in those 2 years.

Later in 2016, I tried a model where I as an athlete had to learn how to setup an independent support structure and that worked for me and I achieved some good stuff – first Indian (along with Arvind Panwar) to go to the world championships and first Indian to join an international professional cycling team in Australia. Though it was a good model, I wanted to try something new and that’s when the idea of Ciclo came about.

I talked with co-founders of team – Ashish Thadani and Bachi Pullela and we came up with 3 goals:

  • Create an aspirational project: We wanted Ciclo to be model where other athletes could replicate some of our ideas and be successful.
  • Be the dominant team in India and develop young riders: This has largely been successful so far. In 2 years, our riders have won several gold medals and podiums at the nationals, podiumed or won at every local event we’ve entered, achieved several firsts at the Asian championships, and trained abroad as a team in Belgium in a 3-month training block. Our U-23 riders, riding and training beside the elite riders on the team, have gone on to win National medals and also learn how to be a professional in their mentality and actions.
  • Publicize and talk about what we do: In small sport like ours, we need to share what we do as a lot of people don’t see the little things that need to be done every day before you go on to achieve a bigger goal. The video and visual content that the team has created over the past 2 years are some of the most viewed racing/cycling content in India that sheds a light on competitive Indian Cycling.

One of the first things we did was hook up with a friend of mine and a photographer – Chenthil Mohan. It was a way to brand activate for our sponsors but also share knowledge. Considering this is the social media age, we used this medium to build reach with the younger generation. This has been fairly successful with young kids asking me a whole bunch of interesting questions at the Nationals like how to get to Belgium to train and race, advice on buying power meters (a training tool), about technical concepts in training, etc.

Cycling is huge in Belgium and they have the best system in the world. My long-term objective is to create a conduit between the 2 countries along with a consulate tie-up that would help in a sporting exchange. This would help develop the system in our country immensely.

I want to be part of the sport for a long time to come and would like to build a process that can be applied to all the future cyclists out there.

What riding events do you target to cover every year? What do you think are your biggest achievements?

In India, my target race is the National Championship. Why? Simply because at the end of the day, your value as an athlete is measured on you being a national champion, though it is by-far not the best metric.

The other events I participate in are community-level events. I build these events into my training plan and make it a hard training day. Another reason I want to be active at a community level is because I want to be part of the eco-systemic change.

On principle, I do not participate in big money races. The reason I choose not to is because I feel that I will be sacrificing a lot more than I can benefit. For me, attending a race means I lose out on my training days not to mention the potential risk of injuring myself if the conditions are terrible. I did attend some races in 2012 to understand why the system was not progressing and decided from the next year never to do it again.

Overall, I have attended 7 national championships with two 4th place finishes and four gold medals. My biggest achievement as an athlete would be being the first Indian road cyclist to ever achieve a podium finish at a Kermesse race, (Lokeren Doorselaar kermesse) in Belgium in August 2018.

Speaking about the Kermesse event, talk us through your experience at this year’s event?

It has always been my dream to perform at a high-level in Europe. Last year, I finished in the Top 20 and I set myself a goal on Top 10 this year. I trained like never before to be able to achieve that goal.

Towards the end of my trip in Belgium, I hit a purple patch – with each race before the event, I progressed from Top 18 to Top 12 and finally cracked the Top 10 at the event. Not only did I achieve a 3rd place finish, but I was only marginally behind the winner of the event, who 2 days later ended up as the runner-up at the Belgian national championships. That was a huge motivation gain for me.

You qualified for the ITT and road race at the Asian Cycling championship in Myanmar earlier this year? What was your takeaway from the race?

For me, the key takeaway is – I’m getting closer!

I have been at the Asian championships twice along with my teammate (Arvind who has been at the championships 5 times). In 2016, we finished the road race as the last bunch on the road and this year, we finished the race as the bunch right behind the winning bunch. Fairly big progress there.

My goal for now is to finish in the Top 5 hopefully next year and if I work harder than I did this year, I think it’s achievable.

You kickstarted an initiative in 2013 called “The Indian Cycling Project”. What brought about the idea and how have you seen it develop over the years?

I came up with this idea because I wanted to leverage best-in-class systems outside of the country. I want to build a system where young athletes are backed by a strong support system and are exposed to the best training and racing eco-systems available.

As I mentioned earlier, my long-term goal is to create a conduit between India and Belgium along with a consulate tie-up that would help in a sporting exchange.

One of the challenges I face is convincing parents to let their young children travel to Belgium because for the parents they see no monetary benefit or results coming out of it. I also let the parents know that their kid could probably get injured, break equipment but all that doesn’t matter as this is probably the most important thing you can do for them to succeed. This experience in Belgium teaches them to be independent, financially responsible, stay physically and mentally tough, brave harsh weather conditions and maintain a balanced diet. It gives these young athletes a view into racing at an international level.

A final question – what are your race plans for 2019?

My next event is the Tour of Nilgiris in December where I hope to enjoy just riding easy for a change, meet some friends and get a little bit of work done. For 2019 – my targets are the National championships, National Games, Asian championships and my customary 3-month training and racing in Belgium.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Featured Comments Off on Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 2 |

Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 2

Deepthi Velkur continues her conversation with Naveen John about his training and his move to competitive cycling in the second part of the story. 

If you haven’t read the first part then click here 

When did you move from being a recreational cyclist to a competitive cyclist?

It was a couple of years after I picked up collegiate cycling. My friends convinced me to sign up for a race and I went full on – got myself a bike, some racing gear and showed up for the race and I finished the race.

During my time racing in the US, it was never competitive. I just went out there to ride and have fun. I enjoyed the training, being part of the racing action and never went in with the mentality of winning. In 2012, when I came back to India, it all changed. I felt like I was on a mission and I decided – I want to try and be the best.

You’re a 3-time Indian Time-Trial (ITT) champion and the country’s first International pro-cyclist? What does it take for someone to achieve this?

Oh! I get asked this question a lot. Every time at the national championships, I have kids come up and ask – what must I do to become a national champion?

My response is simple – ride your age X 10,000 KM and you will give yourself a shot at becoming a national champion.

Not many like that response because it puts the onus back on them. In India, cyclists are just not doing enough work compared to cyclists abroad. I realized this for myself when in 2016 I was in Australia where I rode with a professional team and saw 18-year kids train so much more than I did. It got me thinking, “Am I putting in the kilometres”?

It’s a paradigm shift that we need here in India where the athletes need to put in a lot more work. A few years ago, you did not have to work too hard to become a national champion. If your closest competitor was doing 8,000 KM at the age of 23-24, you only need 9,000 KM to beat him. Today, however, you need at least 25,000 KM to beat me (kinda cheeky, since I lost my National title this year despite that, but always “long game”).

It’s true that the infrastructural challenges we have in our country can be blamed for the bar being so low in our sport but at the base of it – practice, kilometres in the legs and hours spent on the pedals are key.

Do you take assistance from a Coach to train yourself for nationals?

I started off on my own in 2013. I self-coached trying to figure out the answers along the way but I fell short and ended up in 4th place. One of the team supporters then recommended I get a coach.

Getting a coach can be quite a daunting proposition – all of a sudden, you are accountable to someone else and constantly graded. The thought of putting your physical readiness in someone else’s hand is quite a leap.

Fears aside, I started working with my first coach in 2014 and that changed my life and introduced me to a whole new world of scientific training. I’m a pretty adept self-learner and as I was being coached, I also upped my level of understanding of the human body, sport science and training. I have since moved on to my 2nd coach who is based out of Australia.

Training in cycling is a very objective process and working with a coach who guides your physical progression can free up time to work on other areas of improvement that you constantly need to as an athlete. So far, cyclists in India have always moaned about a lack of good coaches but that scenario is changing today.

Our concluding part can be read here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Featured Comments Off on Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 1 |

Road cycling National Champion – Naveen John – Part 1

Deepthi Velkur in a three-part series has a conversation with a pro-cyclist and 4 time National Champion, Naveen John.

Naveen John has many firsts to his name as pro-cyclist. Apart from being a 4-time national champion, he was one of the first 2 Indians at the World Championships and the first Indian with a podium finish at a European event in competitive road cycling. In this conversation, he takes us through his journey so far.

So, Naveen, how did you get into cycling?

Well, about 10 years ago, during my first year in college, I had an experience that changed my outlook on the way I lived. I had just moved away from home for the first time and you know, the stress of having to make new friends, adjust to a new place and all took its toll and my weight ballooned to 98 kgs (Freshman 15 effect I guess!).

It was Thanksgiving and I was at a friend’s place when we decided to play a game of basketball. You know you’re so out of shape when your opponents are running circles around you. I was left panting and breathless at the end of it.

That was my wake-up call – I had to do something about it. I took up running (and a change in my eating habits!) with the sole focus on getting healthy. The consistency paid off and I lost 15kgs in 3 months. While pursuing my Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University, I was introduced to collegiate cycling. It was a life changing experience for me – I made friends for life! They also happened to be a bunch of cyclists who loved racing and doing weekend road trips. I enjoyed the social aspect of the rides and that got me hooked to cycling.

During the four years of your college, you clocked 15-20,000 km each year. That’s an astounding number. How did you make time?

One of the advantages of studying in the US is that you have a good balance between studies and time for yourself. That extra time gave me the freedom to pursue what I enjoyed at that time – cycling. It was a fun way to catch up with friends, stay fit and meet other passionate cyclists along the way.

You signed up for a 120-mile ride which was your first big ride. Can you tell us a little about it?

It all happened by accident, to be honest. I went to a callout (at the start of each semester, clubs pitch for students to join their club) for “Habitat for Humanity” but ended up in the wrong room and without realizing it, I signed up to do a 120-mile charity ride. When I did realize, it blew my socks off because until then, I had never done more than 10 miles at a time.

The race for me was eventful. It was my first time on a road bike and when warming up, I got knocked down by a bus. The bruises and cuts could not take away my spirit and I decided that I still want to do the ride.

Unfortunately, I did not finish the ride but the whole experience had me captivated. It made me realize that there is more to life than just running from one air-conditioned room to another. I looked around and saw all these people enjoy the ride, the outdoors and that clung to me – I wanted a piece of the outdoor life too!

Your decision to move back to India in 2012 was largely influenced by cycling. What encouraged you to make the switch and why Bangalore?

I had to consider my options given I was choosing to not complete my masters in the US and find a job which would have been the ideal way to go.

Around the time, I was considering this decision, the cycling eco-system in India was fairly nascent. There were about 200-400 racers across the country and Bangalore was at the heart of it. There was already a system in place at federation-level, state-level selection trials and national championships. I looked up some data on the CFI website and figured that I was at par with these guys and in some cases faster. I then began to do a few checks to evaluate the decision I was about to take.

  • Did I have the physical ability to do what it takes to succeed?
  • Was there an eco-system and community to support me just like I had in the US? I stumbled upon the Bangalore cycling community via blogs written by Bikey Venky and other local bike shops – this gave me a glimmer of hope.
  • What was the state of Indian competitive cycling in terms of people involved outside of the federation systems? We all hear the usual narrative of sporting infrastructure in India – blame the federation, blame the system and the athletes absolve themselves of all responsibility, but they were some folks attempting new things.

I started looking around if there were people who were actively trying to change the scenario in India and I came across cycling IQ.com and an individual who plays an important role in Indian cycling – Venkatesh Shivarama (Venky).  Venky along with Vivek Radhakrishnan were the founders of Kynkyny Wheelsports Cycling team, the first professional cycling team in India with the aim of competing at the international stage.

I took a shot and sent them a message that I’m an active cyclist and looking to return to India but the enthusiasm was met with measured advise that I’d be better off pursuing the sport outside India for the moment. Despite that, a month later, I landed in India and just showed up. They were surprised and asked me, “so you where the guy who messaged us, why did you come here and not stayed in the US and raced there”.

I could have if I wanted to but I had other plans – I was looking for signs of life, looking for people with the mindset of “be the change” vs following the herd and aspirations of one day perhaps becoming a national champion.

Before I chose which city in India, I did the usual checklist – how will I make rent? How will I make a living? How will I contribute and add value? Bangalore made perfect sense given that I had family here and it had a strong cycling community.

In the next part, we will continue to hear about his journey to the National Championship.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Riding with Bikey Venky

Venkateswara Rao Navanasi or Bikey Venky as he is popularly known talks about his journey from cyclist to blogger to mentor with Deepthi Velkur.

Venkateswara Rao Navanasi’s giant leaps in the cycling world are more than just being inspirational. They are an adventure that he has been conquering the miles along with his demons makes for a story that you must read.

Cycling has become an integral part of your life, but it was never always the case. How did it all happen?

For starters, I wasn’t the most healthy person out there. I was 20 kilos overweight and suffered from frequent asthma and bronchitis attacks.

In February 2008, months before I was due to become a father, I realized my unhealthy lifestyle could be a bad example for my child. That thought triggered an immediate action and my unborn child served as the motivation for me to live a healthier lifestyle.

Over the next 8 months, I lost 16 kilos by doing 2 things –eating healthier and working out for an hour every day. In October 2008 with the idea of including a workout routine into my daily commute, I picked up a cycle. I commuted 14KM a day and that slowly transformed into longer rides over the weekend. The spirit of freedom had me hooked and without even knowing it, cycling changed my life.

From being a recreational cyclist, you transitioned to road racing. That’s a big leap – what drove you to it?

It’s a funny story – I never imagined racing and always thought it was for professionals.

In December 2010, having just moved to Bangalore, I went to watch a BBCh (Bangalore Bicycling Championships) ITT race in Sarjapur and sat there in wide-eyed wonder as I watched the fancy bikes zoom past. 9 months later, while watching another BBCh race, this time it was the Team Time Trial (TTT), the organizers announced that those who had no teams but were interested in racing could take part in the Individual Time Trials (ITT). I pedalled up to the start line with my fixed gear bike and completed the 20KM race averaging a speed of 33KMPH. Later that evening I was surprised when a friend of mine (Brijesh Nair) called me and said that I had won the race and he collected my medal. It was my first ever medal in life! Later in 2011, when I took part in the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), I got hooked to racing and the endorphin rush I experience is what brings me back.

You look forward to the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN) every year? Why is it so close to your heart?

TFN came into existence around the same time I started cycling. The TFN started off as a fun ride but turned into an organized race in December 2008.

In 2008, while researching for a new bike on an online forum (Bikeszone), I happened to stumble upon TFN and was fascinated to read about the experiences of the riders. I followed the tour closely and during a TFN after-party, I caught up with a few riders and listening to their stories first hand solidified my resolve to take part in it one day. When my registration for the 2011 event was accepted I was both elated and scared at the same time. The scale of what I was about to attempt dawned on me and I used the nervousness inside of me to inspire me to do well.

To prepare, apart from my daily commute, I started riding for 50KM twice during the week and even longer on weekends. In the 6 months leading up to TFN, I did about 10,000KM and lost 12 kilos.

In my first TFN race, I secured the 11th position out of 90 riders from across the world. I was ecstatic and believed that I was cut out from something more than just being a recreational cyclist. The high it gave me changed my life as a cyclist forever. During the TFN, I had the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and the camaraderie shared lives with me till today. To me, TFN is special because it challenges me as a rider and of course the views are to die for.

Having raced in multiple events – which race format do you find the most challenging?

My favorite disciple is the ITT and I do share a love-hate relationship with it. It is a race that is called the “race of truth” and rightfully so – it’s just you and your bike going head-on with the elements and the clock.

The ITT is challenging because when you are in the flow, you feel ecstatic but when your mind starts playing up, it is rather an agonizing experience. This year in March, I clocked my personal best average speed of 43kmph for the 33.5km course and the ITT format really helps you gauge your progress.

You seem to love writing as much as you like cycling. What does your blog (www.bvcoaching.in/blog) focus on mainly?

Well, I love riding, writing out my ride reports and sharing them through Bikeszone and my own blog. I always try and share them on race day itself as it’s all fresh in my mind. My blog mainly covers race reports for now, but I intend to publish posts on training and nutrition that could help others in the riding community.

How did the initiative of starting your own racing calendar called BAR (Bangalore Amateur Racing) come about? How many races does it feature in a year?

I have participated in all BBCH races since 2012. It’s a great platform to keep riders motivated, train and stay in shape through the year. The BBCH organizes road and MTB races during alternate months which meant that for us road racers, we had to wait for 2 months between races. Definitely not ideal and we figured we needed more races and that’s how a few of us at Spectrum came up with an idea of starting a new series.

My friend, Venkatachalam from Cleated Warriors team and I went about executing our idea and the first race we organized was a 24KM ITT on 21st July 2013. With the help of stop watches, laptops we ensured the results were released immediately on completion of the race. Our focus is to keep it simple, reduce overheads and organize races at regular intervals. On an average, we do about 10 races per year and charge INR 50 per race per participant.

How and when did your association with spectrum racing start?

In 2011 when I started watching races, I came across this energetic bunch of riders from a team called ‘Spectrum Racing’ and I have also seen them on my regular riding routes. They were a huge inspiration to me in the way that they rode together. Several times I did try keeping pace with them but couldn’t. After several months of riding, I eventually managed to keep up with them and rode most of the tour with them. They were quite impressed with me as I managed to complete the tour with a fixed gear bike and offered for me to join their team.

During this time, I was associated with another team ‘Veloscope’ so getting such an invite is tantamount to poaching in the corporate world. Nevertheless, I was excited at the opportunity, so I consulted my friend Brijesh Nair who set up Veloscope and he encouraged me to go for it. I joined Spectrum Racing in January 2012.

What lead you to start your own coaching site(www.bvcoaching.in)? How does this work?

I have always enjoyed reading, finding new ways to improve myself and sharing knowledge. I used to ride with and mentor a few youngsters and in the process, I shared regular feedback, helped them with race preparations and this became a learning ground for all of us. I enjoyed the process and it helped me develop as well.

Through my blog (www.bvcoaching.in/blog), I had quite a few people asking me questions about training for BBCH, TFN, etc. and I took the opportunity to help in any way I could. For some who wanted more specific advice, I devised training plans for them.

In 2016, I stumbled upon a tool that made training plans and interaction between coaches and trainees easier, but it was fairly expensive. I then decided to start charging for my services and my existing clients were happy with the arrangement and that’s how www.bvcoaching.in started on 1st May 2016.

All the training plans were customized and accessible via the app or website. The trainees could upload their workouts online where I would analyze progress and provide feedback. Communication was predominantly via the tool and emails, but the evaluation was done via phone and Skype. This model enables me to work with athletes from across the globe.

Tour de Friendship 2017 was your first race on the international Platform? How did it go?

My skipper at Spectrum Racing, Dr. Arvind Bhateja, signed me up for the race in 2017 and took care of all logistics as he wanted me to experience racing at a different level.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do justice to the faith he had in me. I went into the race not being at the top of my game and with a tough cycling field and difficult route, it made for a disappointing race. On the bright side, that race opened my mind to newer challenges and I decided to compete in one international race every year.

With the experience you had at Tour De Friendship, how differently did you handle your next race – the Tour De Bintan?

I went into the Tour De Bintan in possibly the best shape I could be at that time. I trained with a coach for over 5 months leading up to the event. I was better prepared and gave a good account of myself.  The race was a 3-day event with an ITT on the first day, a 140km road race on the second and a 100km road race on the 3rd day in the beautiful Indonesian Resort Island called Bintan. The races are well organized and the first two races act as qualifiers for UCI Grandfondo series finals in the age category.

You had to qualify in the top 20% in your age category (40-44) for the UCI Masters Grandfondo series World Championships? Did you manage to meet your target?

Although I was better prepared, I was still quite a way off the top 20% of the field. I finished just outside the top 20% but overall was a great experience. I came back knowing exactly what I needed to work on to do better the next time I’m there which will be in 2020.

What are the major differences you see racing in India vs overseas?

The level of racing overseas is so high that it can be disheartening as well as inspiring. Most of the riders in the age categories 40-44 and 50-54 have been riding all their life and are way faster than any of us. In India, most of us start quite late in life and it might take us several years to get there but I believe it is possible to be competitive by putting in a lot of work.

The races overseas are meticulously planned, organized well and the level of support received from local authorities is amazing. In India, I have seen such planning in events like the Tour of Glory and Tour of Nilgiris (TFN).

How would you rate your performance over the years?

Overall, fairly satisfying. I won the TFN in Masters category in 2015 and 2016 and this year has been very good. I participated in 10-12 races and won 4 of them.

What races have you planned for 2019?

For 2019, my big goal is Giro De Dolomitti (GDD) in the Italian Alps. It is quite similar to the TFN but on a larger scale. Apart from that, I plan to attend the Tour of Glory, 2Go Masters Championships, BBCH, BAR races and TFN.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Record Breaking Iron(wo)man

In conversation with Vinolee Ramalingam, the Chennai based Triathlete who has never let any obstacle deter her.

Ironman is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of non-compete to endurance sports, how did you choose to take it up?
ironmanI started out again to get my body and mind into shape. I didn’t have any endurance sports in mind, as I was focused only on swimming. In my city Chennai, there was a triathlon event around that time and My friends and well-wishers pushed me to take up that. That’s how it happened and rest was history, as I was completely into training and participating in it.

Finishing two Ironman’s and setting a new record, how did that happen?
Participating in an Ironman was not for any record, rather it was only for my own self. I needed to see where I am, and how to fit I am. Being a short distance national athlete (100m,200m) and national swimmer, my mind was and is into sports from my childhood. All my dream and my father and brother’s dream was to represent India at an international arena. When I did that, it was kind of exhilarating and I was addicted to it. That’s what is pushing me.

You have now set your sights on the World Championship, how would you be preparing for it?
World championships are always a dream of a triathlete. For it, I got to train harder and smarter. Need twice or thrice the dedication level which I have now to go to that level. I have got my training plans altered to that, have identified my lagging areas, and am now working more on it. Also, we have analyzed the effort which I did for the two Ironmans. With that as a reference, I am looking forward to an improved training.

What advice would you give to a newbie who wants to try an Ironman event?
An Ironman aspirant should have an open strong mind to even choose this event. He /she should have a structured training plan which will help them in concentrating on each of the legs individually. He/she should be very strong in their basics. They may be a good swimmer, but without knowledge of the bike, they will have trouble. A sound mind to accept whatever may come as output, be ready to push through. My motto is “No way out, Push Through”

How has your family viewed this change?
My family have been supporting me from day 1 when I told I am planning to pursue this. They were happy and they started encouraging me on day to day basis. My kid, Vinesh, is so accommodating, he used to sleep in the car when I go for a ride, as my husband drives the car. Without family, I am nothing.

Who is your inspiration or role model?
My dad, Ramalingam, is my inspiration. He was a national medal winner during 1970s in Heptathlon. He decided things on his own and took up sports as his career, stayed as a coach until he retired. He was also the District Sports Officer. He encourages and coaches me and my kid for our events. He is coaching my kid for upcoming kids triathlon.

Do you work with a coach? If yes, what are the benefits? If no, then how do you plan your training?
Yes, I work with my coach, Xavier Coppock of Team TRI Coaching. He has trained many athletes and has made their dream of qualifying for World Championships come true. Working with a coach is always beneficial as they will know the right amount of training for each leg. And they will be on top of your training and will change it accordingly to your positives and negatives. We just got to blindly follow them

Do you follow a special nutrition plan before and during your race? Can you share a few tips about that?
I didn’t follow any specific nutrition plan, but I did mind what I ate. I had included more amount of proteins, enough carbs and minimal fat. I completely avoided all bakery items, aerated drinks. These kept me in shape. And of course loads of water.
The week leading to the race one should be drinking as much water and take more electrolytes to keep them in shape. If we don’t keep ourselves equipped with this, we will end up feeling exhausted during the race.

Plan earlier for the race. Keep adequate gels, salt capsules and electrolyte. Though the organizers will have enough supplementary drinks, it’s always better to carry our own. That way we will be confident during the race and need not fear if the next aid station carries water or not.

They say mental strength is the most important factor for an endurance event. Do you agree and how have you trained yourself to tackle the challenge the race throws at you?
Along with your physical strength, we need to have tremendous mental strength. We will have a lot of delusions and tons of questions, and you will be asked to quit and go to sleep. During the race, I used to talk to myself about my kid, my family and how they will feel happy when I reach the finish line. How they will be happily and patiently waiting on the finish line for me etc. If we have something to concentrate on and think on, then that’s a boon.

How have you changed as a person since you took up the training for the Ironman?
As a person, I started looking at things positively and started being an influencer indirectly and directly for many women, who think life is just to take care of kids and family and not have any kind of aspirations. Life is short, you are your best friend and your body is the only thing which comes with you till the end. My mind is now fresh, am happy because I do what my mind wants me to do. Indirectly I have changed my kid’s life, as he is happily taken sports as part of his day to day life, and is ready to stay fit.

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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Managing a Flying Career with Triathlon Training

Triathlete Akshay Samel speaks to Protima Tiwary about his love for triathlons and his passion for flying and finding time for both.

From learning the most from bad races to running marathons as a hobby while learning to balance a hectic professional life as a pilot, Akshay Samel’s life is full of moments that inspire all those who know him. We caught up with him in between his flying schedule for a quick chat. Excerpts from the interview:

What made you take up running?

I had always been an active child and enjoyed my childhood playing games in the neighbourhood. I was not the boy you’d find busy with videogames; weekends and summer vacations were spent in fields playing a sport. I am not a professional sportsman, in fact professionally I am a pilot. I only run as a hobby and took it up as a means of getting fit.

It was 2005 when I went to watch the Mumbai Marathon, and it is the spirit of this beautiful event that inspired me to take part in the 7km Dream Run in 2006 in the same marathon. It was during this run that I decided to try for a half marathon someday, once I got the time to train for it.

It took me 3 years to make the dream of a half marathon come true (there was a delay as I waited for my Indian Pilots Licence to arrive first) In 2010 I ran my first half marathon. It’s easy to get addicted to the high you feel after running with a community so supportive and enthusiastic about fitness. There was no looking back for me, I signed up for a full marathon soon after and that’s how it all started.

How do you manage to balance your flying schedule with your running schedule?

That truly is a difficult part. When you have a job with an erratic schedule, it does become difficult to plan ahead. Your sleep patterns are also affected by the flying times, and it requires a truckload of willpower to keep going. Thankfully, over the years I have aced self-motivation to stay on track. My biggest motivation to keep going is to challenge myself to see an improvement in each race.

I face a huge challenge when it comes to recovery. Flying means I am working at 7000ft, with dry air and less oxygen, and different pressure cycles. I use compression calves sleeves when flying, and most importantly I have learnt not to be too hard on myself. I don’t chase missed workouts.  I listen to my body and give it enough rest till I feel I am ready to bounce back.

What is your training schedule like?

I don’t really have a schedule unless there is a race that I need to train for. When I train, I believe in quality over quantity. I try to fit in 3 high-intensity workouts of each discipline, but it all depends on the availability of the bike/pool, another reason it gets difficult to follow a training schedule. I swim, I run and I do some high-intensity indoor bike rides to stay on track.

I have trained with a coach once, and I went from a 4hr marathon to 3:31 in 2 years and from a 1:45 half marathon to 1:33.

Was Ironman always the plan? 

Ironman 70.3 in 2013 (Taiwan) happened purely because of  “peer pressure” for lack of a better term, as a couple of us signed up for this race together. The next couple of years were the same as we signed up to enjoy the thrill of the race. There was no structured training plan. In 2016 5 of us decided to register for the Ironman Kalmar (2016) I was a little nervous about this one, especially about cycling for 180km, and thus concentrated on training on the bike.

Ironman happened because of the thrill and joy that our group shared; we enjoyed training together, sharing and executing workouts and encouraging each other to give it our best. We even shared our fears and low points. We all ended up inspiring each other, and that is the best part about the fitness family. It is such an inspirational squad!

What’s been your best race till date?

It has got to be the Ironman Copenhagen. I hadn’t trained for it the way I would have loved to, but I felt strong throughout and enjoyed it even through the pain. The time I took to complete it was 11:03!

What do you feel about bad races?

I think you learn more from your bad races than you do from the good ones. Good races show you that your training was good, but it is the bad races that show you how much more is needed in terms of training as well as your diet. 2 of my biggest learnings from bad races would be –

  1. Rest is important! Your body will tell you when it needs a pause, do not overdo it.
  2. Quality of training is always better than the quantity of training.

How do you keep yourself going during the long races?

I have learnt to motivate myself, and I realised I am quite strong headed that way. Over the years I have learnt to break my marathon into parts, like smaller goals that all help you reach the bigger goal (in this case, the finish line)

How do you maintain a pace?

For me, training a couple of times a week at a faster pace than my set goal pace helps build endurance. Consistent training will help in setting your goal pace and then maintaining it.

Also, you can’t randomly choose a pace, you need a coach to show you how to do it. Because running on an arbitrary pace that you thought was right will only have you undershoot or overshoot your capability.

What do you like most about triathlons?

Triathlon is all about moving ahead, doing better. Triathlon is a lifestyle, and there is no going back when you start planning and managing your time. There’s one thing that I follow, no matter what, something that Jack Reacher once said: Eat when you can and sleep when you can. Wise words to live by.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Army kid who wishes to travel the world one wellness vacation at a time, Protima Tiwary is a freelance content writer by day and Dumbbells and Drama, a fitness blogger by night. High on love and life, she is mildly obsessed about travelling and to-do lists and loves her long gym sessions like a fat kid loves cake.

 

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Taking it one step at a time!

Anirudh Inani took to running, cycling and trekking to stay fit, a journey that eventually became a passion. In this conversation with Deepthi Velkur, he tells his story.

Passion. Determination. Dream big. You live only once. These are not just some fancy adjectives or phrases thrown around in Anirudh Inani’s world. These are the mottos he has chosen to live by every day.

An entrepreneur by profession, Anirudh Inani’s passion lies in running, trekking and cycling.

Anirudh’s pursuit is to be able to finish at least 40 events across running, cycling and triathlons before he turns 40. He has it all in his sights – taking part in the Olympic triathlon, competing in Ultra events, scaling the highest mountains and conquering every trek.

Ambitious and daunting it certainly is, but he is taking it one step at a time and is currently working on improving his timing for a full marathon and move on from that.

I caught up with Anirudh on what drives this passion and this is what he had to say.

When did you discover your love for fitness and how did your weight-loss program with Truweight impact your outlook to life?

I discovered my love for fitness after I started running and cycling simultaneously many years ago. The Truweight program has phenomenally changed me and my outlook towards life – I have never been fitter, more confident and more energetic after I lost my weight.

Did running happen by chance or was it a conscious decision and a means to stay fit?

At one point in time, I was so heavy that it was very difficult for me to even jog for 100 metres. I had no stamina and was running out of breath while running. I started running to lose weight but eventually discovered that I really enjoyed the high I used to get post my runs. Over time, I worked on increasing the distance of my runs and the rest followed.

Being a businessman, managing your time well is of utmost importance. How do you bring in fitness into your busy schedule?

It’s definitely not an easy task managing a business, running a family and trying to stay fit at the same time. However, I feel that if you’re passionate about something, you will find a way to manage it all and prioritize. Fitness rejuvenates my soul. It’s food for my soul.

What keeps you motivated to stay fit and push forward?

I’m fortunate to have a great set of friends who are into fitness and health conscious too. When you are surrounded by such people, you automatically feel motivated. We always discuss events happening around the country/ world and what needs to be our next goal to achieve and this drive keeps me going to keep myself fit. 

What is it about trekking that appealed to you? How often do you trek and where?

Mountains have always fascinated me and I’m a mountain lover. When I was doing my management studies in Mumbai, I went for a 2- day trek to the Western Ghats with a friend of mine who was already a passionate trekker. Trekking was not so popular and most of the people were scared thinking it’s not safe. I was mesmerized by that trek so much that after completion of my management studies, the first thing I did was to enroll for my first Himalayan trekking expedition in 2003. My parents were very apprehensive as well but eventually convinced them. There was no looking back since then. I made sure I do at least one Himalayan trek every year. Also, in the same way, I have encouraged a lot of my friends into trekking so they get to experience the thrill and joy of going on treks and this, in turn, has made them passionate trekkers too.

How many events across running and cycling have you been a part of till date?

Well, I used to run small distances every day as a part of my fitness routine and commute on a cycle to the park and back where I used to run.

I wasn’t confident of completing marathons. The maximum I could think of running was 10k but a friend of mine encouraged me to take the plunge and I registered for my first half marathon in Hyderabad, just a day before the event. The terrain was tough and quite challenging too. I did take the plunge not knowing if I would complete my run but after I started the race and seeing the energy of the people around, that pushed me to complete the race successfully in a decent time which gave me a real high and boosted my confidence. Since then I’ve done about 5 half marathons, a dozen 10K’s and one triathlon.

On the cycling front, I have done a couple of 100 km rides, Ladakh cycling expedition of around 350 Km in the mountains of Ladakh. A cycling expedition from Hyderabad to Rajahmundry which is a distance of about 700 Km, passing through a very scenic route of forests and mountains. After my Ladakh cycling expedition, I decided to upgrade my cycle to an advanced geared bike which I still have as my prized possession.

Cycling or running? Which of the two gives you the real high after an event?

Though I love cycling more, it’s difficult to compare between both. I feel elated post my runs and when I achieve the goal I had set for myself. Whereas with respect to cycling, I simply enjoy the entire journey of cycling and I just grasp every moment. It is a different experience altogether to discover a new place on a cycle.

What is the kind of training regimen you follow with respect to cycling and running?

Running thrice a week in the morning with alternate day strength training and circuit training for 3-4 days a week in the evening.

I still have to work on my flexibility as it’s a crucial part of any fitness regime.

Sundays are for long rides if there’s no running event planned.

What measures do you take to better yourself as a runner/cyclist? 

I read a lot about techniques of running, attending workshops and keeping in touch with different running groups which help me in gaining further knowledge.

Any particular race(s) in mind that you wish to complete, be it running or cycling in 2019?

I intend to do quite a few trails runs and countryside cycling events. I also intend to do Tour of Nilgiris cycling event in 2019.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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All conquering Triathlete

In conversation with Siddhant Chauhan, Nandini Reddy finds out how this Corporate Communications expert became a certified Ironman Coach. 

Siddhant Chauhan, 36 yrs, working as Deputy General Manager – Corporate Communications and CSR with Nissan Motors India. He is also an Ironman Certified Triathlon Coach (completed last year) and Assistant Coach with Yoska under Deepak Raj. He recently completed the Cetlman – Extreme Scottish Triathlon is considered to be one of the toughest triathlons in the world which has seen only 1200 participants from across the world since its inception in 2012.

Triathlons completed so far Ironman 70.3 Bintan 2016, Ironman Nice 2017. Super Randonneour for the 2016-17 season.

Being a triathlete isn’t a decision that many people make, how did you decide to become one?

You are right. It wasn’t an overnight decision. I got introduced to the concept of triathlon at a time when I wasn’t pursuing any of the three disciplines required. On the contrary, my lifestyle was quite sedentary. I hated long distance running and when you stack it towards the end of a triathlon, it was definitely not the most attractive proposition. So I first began by getting comfortable with running and eventually cycling. And one thing led to the other.

At what stage of your journey are you as a triathlete?

In 2014 when I was working for Reckitt Benckiser India, then CEO Nitish Kapoor threw a challenge of running a half marathon and raising funds for our charity partner. I guess once I was able to successfully finish a half marathon, it gave me a confidence that I can take a shot at doing a triathlon. However, it was a step by step process and as you rightly said, it did not happen overnight.

 

What is your advice to anyone who wants to take up an endurance sport?

I am an amateur in endurance events, but with whatever limited experience I have, my advice will be:

  1. Have a goal and chalk out a roadmap to achieve that
  2. Invest in a good coach for a structured training
  3. Building mental toughness is as important physical endurance
  4. Focus on nutrition and recovery
  5. And of course, compete with yourself first to become better at it

It takes a lot of mental strength to reach the finish line, how do you motivate yourself to keep going?

Absolutely! With a regular job and family, it is tough to dedicate hours towards training day after day. It is fairly easy to get off the track, but you need to keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. It has to be for your own self instead of any other ulterior motive. You practice this through your training blocks and on race day, you give your 100%.

The day before the big race, how do you prepare yourself?

It is not just about the day before your race, one has to get into the mould through the week building up to race day. I run the simulation of this build up during my training blocks and it has helped me. On the day before, I try to keep myself as relaxed as I possibly can and get a good sleep. I keep a close watch on what I eat and it is an important part of feeling good on the race day. On the lighter note, the intensity of the peak week can often make the race day feel like a cakewalk.

Earlier this year you conquered the Celtman, how was the experience?

Once in a lifetime experience – the intensity of this extreme triathlon cannot be comprehended by the race video or report. The course is tough and the weather is harsh.

To give you a quick view of what it entails:

  • SWIM – 3.4K in cold (11 degrees), deep and jellyfish infested Atlantic waters
  • BIKE – 202K through cold, rain and winds through Scottish Highland roads
  • RUN – 42K over the Beinn Eighe mountain range (trail)

Celtman

From swimming in 11 degrees lake infested with jellyfish and riding in rain and cold winds to running across a brutal trail, there is no one part of the race which is easier than the other. It was quite a challenge for me as I trained for the event in conditions which were exactly opposite to what the race offered.

Watch a short video of the race – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaniAKBzoRg 

Do you follow a specific or special diet and nutrition plan?

Yes, I follow certain guidelines for my diet during training. And of course, nutrition I believe is the 4thpillar of triathlon – extremely important to fuel your body right to take you through the gruelling day in the field

Do you have a particular race that is at the top of your wish list?

Yes, Norseman and Swissman extreme triathlons are on my wishlist.

Who is your role model who inspires you to keep aiming higher?

If you look around, there are enough and more role models who inspire you to keep moving despite challenges in life. But if you ask me for one, it has always been Michael Jordan since my childhood days. But particularly in the sport of triathlon, there are so many pros who perform at unimaginable levels and it is always inspiring.

What is next on your agenda of races? 

For 2019, my focus is to improve my timing for a full marathon, aim for the races in my wish list and aim for ITT nationals.

 

You can follow Siddhant’s journey on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/siddhantchauhan/  

 

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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Ride every Mountain

Kiran Kumar Raju, mountain biking national champion has the 2020 Olympics in his sights, talks to Deepthi Velkur.

K Kiran Kumar Raju or KKR as he is fondly known is a Bangalore-based mountain biking (MTB) professional who has been crowned national MTB champion this year. Apart from MTB, Kiran has also achieved success in other cycling disciplines such as road racing and Duathlons.

A civil engineer by profession and a sporting ninja by choice, Kiran has dabbled in hockey, table tennis, cross country running at the university level. Realizing his passion lies in cycling, he decided to leave the corporate rat race and instead, chase his dreams on a cycle! Peeking into his cycling statistics will leave you aghast – 125+ races completed, 76+ podium finishes, 41+ 1st place finishes across road races, MTB and Duathlons.

I had the opportunity to talk to Kiran and was very interested to see how this former civil engineer plans to ride all the way to Tokyo 2020.

You’re a fairly busy person – active in hockey, table tennis and cross-country running. How did the switch to cycling happen?

I have always enjoyed sports and keeping active. In college, I had access to different sports and always kept myself engaged. I was University hockey captain at Manipal University, represented the college at Table Tennis and cross country running.

In 2010, I was working in Bangalore with Mantri developers and the famous Bangalore traffic was getting worse. Cycling appeared to be the only viable option to cover the distance of 40KMS. To me, it sounded like a good idea because apart from helping my commute, it was a great way to stay active.

My interest in cycling grew and I kept myself engaged with various city-wide events. Later in 2010, I heard about the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), a grueling 7-day tour covering a distance of 900KMS and of course I volunteered. It was my first interaction with people from the cycling fraternity and I gathered heaps of information on different types of cycles, cycling events across Bangalore and India.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I stepped up the number of races I took part the following year. I was at a disadvantage though – I never had a race competitive bike myself and had to borrow bikes for various races. I enjoyed the thrill of the race though and despite the competition, I was fairly successful.  My mode of training was still the 40KM daily commute.

As it happens with most of us, the busy work schedule took a toll on my other sporting interests. I lost focus on Table Tennis and Hockey but instead, I found time for Ultimate Frisbee which I did for 4 years with a club called Disco Deewane. My professional commitments also affected my cycling performance and I soon realized that cycling is where my passion lied. In 2014, I decided to let go of my well-paying job and chase my dreams on a cycle.

When did you realize mountain biking was your new passion?

Since 2011, I took part in road races as well as mountain biking (MTB). I enjoyed MTB more because unlike road racing where the focus is on power, MTB requires you to combine elements of power, technical skills, and endurance.

Being a notorious motorcycle rider, I was able to pick up bike handling skills faster than other riders and this gave me an edge over the other MTB riders in Bangalore.

How did you prepare for your first national MTB event?

My first national-level MTB event was in 2014 and since quitting my job in 2014, I was able to devote more time to training. People say cycling is an individual sport – I disagree. It is a team sport because it requires you to have a good coach, a supportive family, friends who not just help you financially but also motivate you.

My teammate decided to coach me for the event and I finished 7th across both events in my 1st national appearance back in 2014.

In my 2nd nationals in 2015, I won a gold in the Time-Trial event and 3rd place in the Mass-Start race. It was a very emotional moment for me and all that hard work and focus was paying dividends. I have been on the podium ever since.

What are the different races that you’ve been a part of till date?

I have taken part in all disciplines of cycling – road races, MTBs, and Duathlons. In 2011, I have also taken part in a brevet (an endurance ride that involves covering a target distance in a target time). I was advised to focus more on single-day short distance events instead, of a brevet. Till date (across 8 years), I have completed 125+ races throughout the country and overseas.

What kind of mental and physical skills do you need to participate in a brevet event? How is it different from any other course that you have traversed so far?

A Brevet event is more mental toughness than physicality and requires a lot of patience. Honestly, any race crossing the 6-hour mark requires a different sort of mental toughness. I could not dedicate my time training for these events but finished the entire randonneuring series just for the sheer joy of having completed it.

Personally, I do not recommend Brevet events for youngsters(<30yrs) in India. It is a day and night event, visibility is an issue and that carries too many risks and safety issues.

MTB or road events – what is more challenging and why?

Clearly, MTB is more challenging. Like I mentioned earlier, road racing is about power, endurance and the ability to control well enough at 50KMPH. MTB, on the other hand, requires a different skill set to excel, as here you need to select specific lanes along the trail which are faster and efficient, have exceptional bike handling skills, understand your bike well and quick reaction speeds.

How do you manage to juggle a young family and train for 400-600KMS each week?

It’s all about having the right support system. The credit goes to my family and my partner in specific who has backed me and given me all the support I need to focus on my cycling. My family is based out of Mysore while I do my training in Bangalore. I do my share of shuttling to ensure I spend quality time with my family in-between events.

When did your association with Trek Bicycle happen and how has your partnership been so far?

My 1st sponsorship was Kynkyny Wheel sports team and I have been associated with them between 2013 – 2016. Earlier this year, Trek Bicycle signed a 2-year endorsement deal and I am extremely thrilled to be associated with this brand as they are the most technologically advanced bicycling company in the world. They really understand my cycling needs and they seem quite happy with my achievements and apart from extending my contract for the next two years, they have also provided me with new advanced equipment to help pursue my future goals.

Yet another win at the MTB national event that happened between 26th-28th Oct in Pune? How did you prepare for it and did all go as per plan on the course?

I had a very clean race in both my categories – time trial (XCT) as well as the mass start (XCO). Time trail (XCT) is where you ride solo, finish 4 laps and basically race against the clock. Mass start (XCO) is where you start together and race each other.

My objective was to keep the rubber side down and avoid having a fall, push hard from start to finish and stick to the leading group for the initial lap and then set my own pace later.

From the start, my focus was winning the mass start as I had not won a gold in this category. Thankfully, everything went as per plan and I ended up with a silver in the time trial and a gold in the mass start (my first at the MTB event).

It was a huge achievement for me and a very humbling experience. I can now proudly say that I’m the “National Mountain Biking Champion” in India.

You have 2 key goals at the moment – represent India at the Asian Championships and then the 2020 Olympics. What are the steps you’re taking to achieve those dreams?

First, I had to prove to my country, sponsors, family and myself that I am India’s national MTB champion. With that out of the way now, I will use this time to rest well, recover and then start training in 2 weeks.

My focus now is to do well at the Asian championships in May 2019. Doing well here is my primary parameter to enter to the 2020 Olympics.

My training for the Asian championships will involve taking part in at least 4 races across Asia and then train for 2 months in Brisbane, Australia. When there, I will train and ride on trails that are more technical and challenging compared to India. I have already trained at Brisbane for 5 weeks prior to the nationals and that really helped me prepare well enough to win gold. This gives me the confidence to go back and spend more time training in those trails.

I have been at the Asian championships before, but compared to previous times I am a lot more confident now and with me being at the top of my game, I am aiming to finish in the Top 10.

What are the three most important things you need to do to cycle like a pro?

Discipline, dedication and a clean diet for at least six months prior to an event is what I do and anyone can achieve good results.

How difficult was it to make cycling a career choice?

Fairly difficult – unfortunately since cycling is not considered a big profession in India, it is challenging to make it a full-time career. What helped me was my family. They have been understanding, motivating and have supported me financially all the way through.

In India, you only get a medal and a certificate from the government for any national event across disciplines. The cash award applies only if it is an Olympic event. For e.g. the mass track event (XCO) is an Olympic sport and has cash awards unlike the time trial (XCT) which is not considered an Olympic sport. The national mountain biking riders are not offered a direct government job like the road racing champions.

I have been able to take up cycling full-time purely because of my family, sponsors, and well-wishers.

What are your thoughts on the current scenario of competitive cycling in Bangalore?

Bangalore is considered the cycling capital of India as we have the maximum number of races in the country. There is a fair bit of mountain bike races, road races that happen and attract riders from all over the country.

The races are handled very professionally, in a systematic and organized manner. Despite the fact that there are no cash awards, this has not deterred participants who take part for the sheer joy and experience of cycling.

I am thankful to Bangalore for creating this environment of cycling and my goal of winning the national and Asian championships are because of this. It is interesting to note that the national road biking and mountain biking champions are from Bangalore.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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