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Fighting ill-health to get fit

Many with life-changing health problems learn to incorporate fitness into their daily routines.

mumbai Updated: Jan 06, 2012 01:55 IST
Aarefa Johari

Last year, 41-year-old Deepika Madhok competed in a pentathlon organised by Bombay Gymkhana, Fort, in which she swam and played tennis, basketball, table tennis and badminton — all back-to-back — to emerge the overall winner. This year, she competed again, but slipped to third place, she says, laughing.

These victories are especially precious to Madhok because, 10 years ago, this art dealer and avid squash player suffered a back injury that threatened to end all her amateur sporting activities.

Madhok’s family had been prone to back problems, and in her case, this was compounded by her pregnancy and then caring for her twin boys. Madhok believes that she also overdid her workouts at the gym. As a result, she suffered from a herniated slipped disk, was on bed rest for two weeks, and finally told that she should no longer lift heavy weights, run or play intense sport.

Most people afflicted with sudden, life-changing health problems learn to incorporate fitness into their daily routine. But for Madhok, this was not enough. She was determined to overcome her condition through perseverance and healthy living.

She took up Iyengar yoga, attended her physiotherapy sessions religiously and performed daily exercises to strengthen her back, so that she could eventually return to the most active form of exercise that she had always loved and missed sorely - sports.

“I found yoga and swimming rather passive and boring, but I was not allowed to take up squash because of the pressure it puts on the lower back. So I chose another racquet sport, tennis,” says Madhok, an Altamount Road resident who says she is now always mindful of not pushing her body beyond its limits. “I know now that pain should not be ignored,” she says.

Nutritionist Kunjan Parekh believes it is possible for ordinary people to overcome diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other lifestyle ailments through diet, exercise and, above all, commitment.

“Having such health problems does put restrictions on what you can do, but life does not come to a halt,” said Parekh, who knows several diabetic children who participate in sports after proper diet control. Stress, she says, only worsens the problem. “If you have a positive attitude, you have won half the battle against your ailment.”


‘I pushed myself and tested my limits’

Priyadarshini, 28, had spondylitis and knee injury, now a long-distance runner

On December 25, Priyadarshini, who goes by only one name, gave herself an elaborate birthday gift. As co-founder of WindChasers, a newly launched adventure racing company, she designed for herself a triathlon— an endurance test that involved long-distance swimming (3.75 km), cycling (44 km) and running (21 km). She completed the routine back-to-back, in just 7.5 hours.

If Priyadarshini seems like the picture of health, she is quick to point out that things were not always like this.

A national-level swimmer in primary school, Priyadarshini developed spondylitis at age 11 because of the heavy school bag she would travel with every day and the excessive swimming. She was forced to quit the sport. After four years of pain and unsuccessful physiotherapy, she started working out under a professional trainer, gradually building her muscles. The pain in her arms and shoulders slowly receded, and she spent her college years pursuing martial arts such as judo, taekwondo and kung fu, to further strengthen her body.

In 2007, inspired by a friend who is a long-distance runner, Priyadarshini took a decision that changed her life: She signed up for the annual, five-day, The Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, known to be one of the toughest endurance events in the world.

“I have flat feet and would find running difficult, but I wanted to push myself and test my limits,” said Priyadarshini, who is also a professional singer and a social activist.

Priyadarshini had trained rigorously for five months, but in the middle of the Himalayan race, she slipped, fell and injured her knee. Despite the fibre-tears and internal bleeding, she continued — and became the first Indian woman to complete it.

“Luckily, the injury did not cause any permanent damage, and after giving it complete rest for a few months, I changed my fitness and diet regimen in order to heal it,” said Priyadarshini, who then took to physiotherapy, gymming, swimming, cycling and running under a professional cross-fit trainer.

She participated in two half-marathons in the city before launching WindChasers with her friend and running partner. “We want to help more Indians get into ultra-marathons and adventure running,” she says.

‘No warm-ups took a toll on my knees’

Prabodh Thakker, 55, tore his knee cartilage, now plays cricket

In his early 20s, Prabodh Thakker, now 55, passionately played badminton and cricket and even aspired to be a professional cricketer. Then in 1987, when he got a recurrent swelling in his right knee tested, his world turned upside down. He had a torn cartilage, and was asked to stop running and playing sports.

Today, Thakker, who heads a city-based insurance broking firm, has succeeded in exercising his way out of his condition, can run for 30 minutes at a stretch and, for the past three years, has even been participating in corporate cricket tournaments.

But there will always be one regret, says Thakker: No one taught him the importance of warm-up exercises and cool-down stretches before and after a game. “Every day at the sports club, I would get straight to the game because nobody insisted on warm-ups,” says Thakker, a Malabar Hill resident. “I believe it was the fast-paced badminton games, which required putting pressure on the knee, that triggered the cartilage tear.”

Thakker’s doctors advised surgery and told him not to expect any miracles. “We decided to delay the operation because my father needed major surgery for cancer at the time,” says Thakker, who is glad he never had that surgery, even though he had put on a lot of weight and could only manage occasional morning walks.

Nearly five years ago, at one of these walks in a park, Thakker saw fitness trainer Kunal Sharma training a fellow walker. “I asked him if he could help me, and he did,” says Thakker, beaming. Sharma’s fitness routine for Thakker began with very simple stretches that grew more rigorous over the years. “The pain has almost completely gone now,” he says.

Thakker now plays 20-over cricket innings in the company matches.


‘I was 160 kg and very depressed’

Vakil Khan, 28, overcame obesity, now acts in action films

On the sets of a Telugu film in Hyderabad last year, Mumbai boy Vakil Khan jumped from a high wall, pirouetted in the air and landed with a crash on his co-actor, then confidently repeated the action sequence. Just six years ago, this agile, well-built, 6-foot-4-inch actor was sitting depressed at his Oshiwara home.

Khan had always been an ardent foodie and had been increasingly overweight since age 11. By 2005, he had hit an appalling 160 kg, suffered from acute knee and back pain, found it difficult to walk and could not bring himself to work.

His college friend Ziauddin Khatib, who now runs the Indian Kickboxing Association, helped him turn his life around. “Khatib was the only friend who encouraged me to lose weight and believed he could make it possible.”

Khatib put Khan on a strict diet and began to train him in kickboxing. Within 18 months, Khan’s weight was down to 83 kg. His knee and back pains were gone. “My confidence levels shot up and I have more self control,” says Khan.

Four years ago, a photographer at a friend’s wedding urged Khan to try his hand at acting. His first role was as the villain in Telugu film Jai Bhava (2009).

‘I was in bed for two weeks, couldn’t move’

Shyam Shah, 46, went on a crash diet, suffered a slipped disk, is now an avid biker

More than a decade ago, Shyam Shah — who had been plump since childhood — went on a strict diet and lost 10 kg in five months. At first he was elated, but the celebrations were short-lived. As the body mass around his spine suddenly shrank, Shah ended up with a compression-induced slipped disk, a condition worsened by the fact that his spine had grown weak because of his avid biking on Mumbai’s bumpy roads. Overnight, his life changed dramatically.

“The pain was unbearable. I had to have back surgery. I was in bed for two weeks and unable to move,” said Shah, a textile businessman.

“After 7 years, I finally decided that I needed to do more to strengthen my back, and switched to gymming under the guidance of a trainer qualified to handle back problems,” said Shah.

In August, Shah bought a 1,200cc BMW bike designed for riding long distances on any terrain.