Fitness

Born to run

Milind Soman. Photo: R. Raghu

Milind Soman. Photo: R. Raghu  

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Milind Soman writes on his life’s mission to get more people, especially women, involved in sport

I’ve been interested in fitness since I was a child. It started with swimming — I won my first National medal at the age of 10 and that was a great incentive to continue. By the time I was 14, however, everyone around started saying that I should stop swimming and focus on my studies instead. Most Indian families do this, and mine was certainly one of them. However my mother believed that I could and would find time for both and I did. I not only completed my engineering degree but I also represented India in swimming till the age of 23.

I understand today, the value of working so hard through all those growing-up years. When you are in a competitive sport, your physical, mental and emotional energy all comes together, because performance is based on that. It is profound what competitive sports can do to the mind and the development of personality. Sports gave me an understanding of what my potential is, made me comfortable with myself and more accepting of my weaknesses. It helped me make the right lifestyle choices and taught me focus, discipline and self-awareness.

I think sports helped me understand how the world works, the right choices one needs to make for oneself — that is almost a lesson in survival. I was very lucky as a child to be given the opportunity and the encouragement to be in sport, and I feel children everywhere must be given this opportunity. A healthier and fitter future for society depends on this.

I started running at the age of 38, because the Mumbai marathon came along and I had always thought of running a marathon as something that you had to do to be a real man. I hated running but I went ahead and trained for three months. By the time I did the half marathon, I was hooked. I was amazed at the sense of achievement. And the best way to keep feeling that is to just continue doing it. All runners are passionate about getting more people to run and share in the feeling. It’s the same with me. Everyone knows what is right and good for them but leading by example is a far better way of doing things than preaching. I realized that if I wanted to spread this awareness to the next generation, I should ensure that women are involved. Just like how my mother encouraged me to continue, other mothers should understand the value of sport for themselves, and by their example, inspire their families too. Today, at the age of 76, my mother participates in the Oxfam Trailwalker which is a 100 km event. She never fails to inspire.

An active lifestyle is one of the best ways to combat lifestyle diseases. Unfortunately people in general neglect health, women even more so. Even though the running revolution had taken off in India, women were not participating in running events in large numbers. Of course, there are cultural reasons for that. I wanted to create a space where women were comfortable enough to exercise together — run and walk, the most convenient forms of exercise you can do as a community. I wanted to create a community of women who believed and could inspire each other. Most women feel guilty about taking time away from their families to exercise. But when they come out there and see many thousands of other women like them, exercising, they begin to believe that it is okay.

People told us, when we started, that women wouldn’t come. But the response across so many cities has been phenomenal — so many women have started running because of the Pinkathon. With it, we hope to gradually change the mindset that makes our health our last priority. I have always chosen to do things that I love and that inspire me. As that old adage goes, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day of your life.”

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Printable version | Nov 17, 2018 12:18:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/fitness/milind-soman-born-to-run/article7057692.ece

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