In an era of hi-tech fitness centres, free weights are considered primal by many. However, a gym in our good old Chennai has survived for 81 years, thanks to its belief in staying hardcore. Raghuveer Gym, located on Suryanarayana Chetty Street in Royapuram, is not a fitness centre where people meet to socialise. This facility has been home to powerlifters and bodybuilders who went on to open their own gyms.
Originally known as Raghuveer Vyayam Mandal, the gym was established on a piece of land in 1931 by one Sreeramulu Naidu. “This was the oldest gym in the erstwhile Madras State. It continues to function with the blessings of the Naidu family. It had links with Maharashtra Vyayam Mandal and promoted activities such as wrestling, gymnastics, weightlifting and physique building. Former wrestling great Gama Pehelwan had visited this gym,” says R.L. Thiruvengadam, vice-president, Indian Bodybuilders' Federation,
Naidu had initially given a piece of land where there was a small room with some free weights and an open area with equipment such as roman rings and parallel bars. His motto was to ensure that residents of the area trained there free of cost and enjoyed good health. Over the years, the open area shrunk owing to development of the city. The gym now functions from two rooms on the ground floor and one on the first floor .
Says Thiruvengadam: “I have been part of this gym since 1958. We formed a committee in 1962 to ensure proper functioning of the facility. The first task was getting a power connection. Next were basic amenities such as drinking water and toilets. Our committee decided to collect a very small fee from members to meet minimum maintenance expenses. According to a document dated November 1963, the annual fee was Rs. 3. Now, it's Rs. 60 per month.”
Thiruvengadam, who was Indian team's weightlifting coach for several Asian and World games in the 1980s, is one of the main instructors here. Others are B. Vijayakumar, who was junior national weightlifting and body building champion, and Pandian, abodybuilder. Several members of this gym have won laurels. Among them is D. Lakshmanan, who won World Masters Powerlifting Championship. Other champions include R. Mohanakrishnan (world powerlifting champion), Duraivelu (powerlifting), Muthu (weightlifting) and Loganathan (body building).
Former members of this gym include Legislative Assembly Speaker D. Jayakumar and former Congress councillor ‘Royapuram' Mano. “No one wastes time here,” says Lakshmanan. “All these will be loaded on the barbells in the morning,” he says, pointing to the 1,000 kg of weight plates. Adds Pandian, “We bought some pulley machines some years back to make the gym complete. Many of us are in our 40s, but stronger and healthier than a lot of persons half our age.”
Bodybuilding enthusiast C. Lakshmi Kumar traces the oldest existing gym in the city