Marathons and vascular radiology might not have much in common. However, Swetha Devraj would beg to differ. The qualified vascular radiologist is a passionate marathoner. The 28-year old hails from Mysore and balances both careers with a finesse of a trained gymnast.
Though her work as a radiology expert at the Jain Hospital in Bangalore consumes over 12 hours, she still finds time to train and run.
It is a common sight to find Swetha running in Sree Kanteerava Stadium, at the crack of dawn, under the watchful gaze of her coach, N. C. Aiyappa. Swetha, who is back home after participating in the Mountain Marathon in Surabaya in Indonesia recently, where she won the title in the women’s section, says sports has been an integral part of her life.
“Ever since I was a kid, my mom always encouraged to me to take part in all kinds of sports activities. I chose tennis first and trained under coach R. Nagaraj in Mysore. I made rapid progress and played a lot of State, National and ITF junior events. I went to the U.S. when I was 18 and was recruited to play college tennis. I lived in the US until I was 27. I did my undergrad in pre-medicine (Alcorn State University, Mississippi) and went on to do my post-graduation in Miami (Nova South Eastern University) in vascular sonography. It was in the US that I saw my true potential in tennis, playing for the team. I played at the No. 1 or No. 2 spot usually and I got to play against some of the best players in NCAA from all over the world and won. Our team won the Conference Championship in 2008 and I won women’s title at University of West Florida in 2008.”
From an accomplished tennis player, Swetha’s sports career took an interesting turn, when she began running. “I started running for fitness while playing tennis in the US and slowly started enjoying longer runs around my campus at Alcorn which has beautiful woods around it. I participated in my first half marathon in Florida in 2009. Florida has many of these races every month. So I kept participating in a lot of them just for fun and kept finishing them with decent timing—I didn’t participated in full marathons in the US. Once I got back to India, I met a group of people who practice Muay Thai and mixed martial arts .We decided to go running to Coorg from Mysore in 2012 covering 120 km in two days, to help promote mixed martial arts in India. We were about 15 members. Everyone else ran part of the way — walking, hiking or cycling the rest. That was actually when I truly found out how much my body could take; how much I could push myself and how much I loved running. I ran the whole time. We did 65 km the first day and 60 km the next taking three breaks each day.”
Once she moved to Bangalore for work in 2012, Swetha participated in couple races. “Competitions were not important for me and still are not. I don’t compete to win against anyone. I run or participate to compete against timing; because I love doing it.”
Since then she has been running half marathon and 10 K at home and abroad. In August, she ran the Singapore 10 K. Speaking about the Mountain Marathon Swetha says: “It was quite a challenge. Almost half the course was uphill and it took a heavy toll. It was a test of endurance and I am glad I did that well. I didn’t even know that I had won in the women’s section until the organizers came to the hotel room and handed me my trophy!”
After taking part in Dasara Games 10 K in October, Swetha plans to run another mountain course in Japan, around Mount Fuji in November.
Marathon is all about stamina and Swetha, according to coach Aiyayappa, has it in plenty. “She has a lot of endurance and she’s very determined to succeed and finish the course, but I am working on her fitness and speed,” says Aiyappa. To be a good marathoner, Swetha says “You need to really love running, love running more and know your body and your limits. You need to have the right guidance to train (especially weight training and strengthening and the passion to keep getting better. Nutrition plays a very important part in pre and post training. Running requires a lot of patience.”
Swetha funds her own marathon trips and training. “But people at work are very understanding, especially my boss Dr. Suresh and my parents are very supportive.” Swetha’s father is a Deputy Commissioner in the BBMP and her younger sister, Likitha is also a tennis player.
Swetha keeps her focus on professional work as a vascular radiologist. “We have very few people specializing in it in India and though I could have stayed back in the US, I returned, because we need that kind of expertise here.”
Her goals include running the 10 k under 35 minutes and qualify for World 10k elite group in Bangalore next year. “My long term goals are to run ultra-marathons and follow some of the world class marathoners like Caballo Blanco, Scott Jurek, Jen Shelton, Ann Trason and the famous Tarahumara tribe!”