Health

The man who brought Ironman to India

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How Deepak Raj dropped 30 kilograms, ran, cycled, swam his way through 20 Ironman races, and then, made it his career to coach and finally, brought the Ironman to India

For a person responsible for bringing the Ironman to India, Deepak Raj has the ultimate weight-loss story. In Bengaluru, where he grew up, “like everybody else, I played cricket — nothing very serious”. He dabbled in basketball: “It was less crowded!” he says ironically, because the sport he’s become an advocate for, is barely known in India.

Back in school, he loved food: “I think at that age, you can kind of get away with it. But the habits and lifestyle had already set in and that continued in high school, college.” It was all about socialising and playing basketball a couple of times a week. “You play once or twice, but have 21 meals besides snacks — that’s a lot of places you can go wrong.”

In 2000, after college, he took a test at Infosys, joined the company, and after a few months got sent to Germany. “The pay was good, the place was good; life was good — or so I thought. But you don’t just wake up one day at 95 kilos.” He was working on a project at Adidas. People were coming to work on a bicycle or going for an afternoon run. “A bunch of people were active and there was so much energy there. That got me going, and I thought I needed to do something.”

The switchover

He spent over four years in Adidas, and through the time, built his sporting ability. His first event was a skating marathon. He’d bought a pair of in-line skates on sale and decided to pull them out to learn. “There was a flyer about a 28k, and I thought it’ll help me learn to skate.” He signed up.

The man who brought Ironman to India
 

That’s when he felt that if he could learn to skate, he could also take up running. So he signed up for the Berlin Marathon. “As a coach now, I don’t think I should have signed up that early, given I had just taken up running.” But he finished the marathon. It was much like how he trained with swimming later, not being able to swim more than about 25 metres, with a goal to swim 3.8 kilometres.

Thanks to Infosys, he travelled the world: Japan, the US, and then Australia. That’s where he first saw the Ironman on TV and decided to give it a shot. After completing several races, Deepak decided to step out of cushy-job mode, and take the plunge into coaching, after certifying himself from IRONMAN, Triathlon Australia, and the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers. “I said I’ll give myself six months. Let’s see if people want to pay for an online coaching service. I wanted to exit and try it, rather than take a sabbatical, which a lot of people advised.” Many asked if he knew what he was walking away from, or if he remembered the numbers on his pay cheque. But with a supportive wife (also in IT) and parents, he quit in his mid-30s. It had been 14 years of very comfortable living.

“It wasn’t even a sport in India at the time,” says Deepak. In 2013, the thought of bringing the Ironman to India began as a “pencilled-out thing. It got legs in 2014, when I started to talk with them,” he says. Every time he did a race, he’d walk over and chat with the head of Asia-Pacific. “They were always open to talk, but they weren’t too sure. I could understand that.” In 2015, they started to see people from India doing a few more races, and in 2016, with the formation of Yoska, with Rudra Prasad Nanjundappa, who also left a corporate career to work the start-up, the team was up.

The man who brought Ironman to India
 

There were several other players, says Geoff Meyer, Managing Director, IRONMAN Asia. But they were looking for someone with shared values: to put the athlete first. It made sense to go with a company that understood the sport from inside out, who wanted to introduce India to the world, and Indians to triathlons. While Deepak is based in Brisbane, Prasad is in Bengaluru, and both had an insider perspective of the sport in India. Yoska it was. Ironman 70.3 it is. On October 20, 2019. “That’s enough time to train, if you’re moderately fit,” says Deepak.

What is the Ironman?

Ironman is the name of a few races. Companies can take licences to run them. The best-known races are:

140.6: Ironman – swim 2.4 miles (3.8 km), bike ride 112 miles (180.2 km), run 26.2 miles (42.2 km)

70.3: Half Ironman – swim 1.2 miles (1.9 km), bike ride 56 miles (90 km), run 13.1 miles (21.1 km)

How to train for it

Look at structured training.

Take care of nutrition, sleep, hydration.

Enjoy the training and the race.

Understand whether you really enjoy it.

Going Goa

Before the place was fixed, Deepak and his team prepared a dossier for the folks at Ironman, as every race course and design has to be reviewed and approved by them. Goa ticked all the boxes, because it met the key parameters…

An open-water body (sea/lake) that is clean, and meets the Ironman guidelines after water-testing (pH scale, bacteria levels)

A cycling course next to the water body that can be cordoned off for safety and security

A running course close to this

An international airport, and its proximity to the course

Large enough infrastructure to be able to handle 800-1,000 people (in the first year), plus their supporters descending on the place

Enough accommodation for participants, supporters, crew, close to the venue

A recognisable destination, bearing in mind that the race is also a tourism opportunity

Brand ambassadors

Deepak will be the local brand ambassador, along with Pete Jacobs, an Australian-born professional triathlete who won the IRONMAN World Championship in 2012 that take place in Kona, Hawaii, and Jaimielle Jacobs, a four-time IRONMAN 70.3 Age Group Champion.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 7:51:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/deepak-raj-the-man-who-brought-ironman-to-india/article25652859.ece

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