“The body achieves what the mind believes,” says Ranjana Deopa, who is entrepreneur, mother of two, distance runner, triathlete, motivational speaker and much more.
“My sport has taught me that the mind is powerful enough to persuade the body to not give up in the face of some aches and pains,” Ranjana, 41, says over a cup of coffee in New Delhi. “It is a gradual process but when you let the mind assume control, it is special. It helps me multi-task and, importantly, identify goals as well as draw up a schedule with which to achieve them.”
After spending 13 years in banking and office automation, the entrepreneurship bug bit her and along with her friend she set up two firms to enable career women help one another, and assist in framing the right policies to deal with diversity and inclusion, gender sensitisation as well as unconscious bias. “The work that I do impacts others but the sport that I practice is for me, it is personal,” she says.
Yet, there are unmistakable parallels in her work and sporting life.
Till five years ago, she had not even thought of taking up running, let alone accomplishing long distances – half marathons, marathons and an ultra-marathon (76km in the Garhwal Runs). The most she would have done was ride a bicycle from home to the nearby stationery store but as it turned out over time that she, among other distances, ended up completing a 200km Brevet cycling event in September 2014.
And after four years of distance running, Ranjana, keeping in mind her husband Nitin Chadha who developed a passion for cycling at the time she started running, sought a new challenge and gave themselves a new common goal around their 40th birthdays. They wanted to compete an international triathlon – the half IronMan – in open waters.
After a year and a half of intense training, Ranjana became the only woman from north India to complete the IronMan 70.3 Middle East Championship Bahrain along with Maharashtra’s Ashlesha Dabir, Mayuri Singh Sengar, Nisha Madgavkar and Chitra Nadkarni. That Nitin was waiting at the finish line after completing the course himself made it doubly special.
Despite having won the 2016 Delhi International Triathlon where the swim section comprised 50m loops in the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming Pool, she was quite under-prepared for Bahrain. Swimming 1.9km in the choppy waters in the Bahrain Bay, a windy 90km cycling course through Manama leading to the Bahrain International Circuit for the 21.1km run was a challenging experience.
Though forewarned about winds, strong enough to blow cyclists off a flyover, she took a tumble and lost time. However, she persisted and got back on her bike. “I had put in months of hard work and would give up only if something was drastically wrong. So long as I could stand on my feet and the bike was fine, I was determined to complete the course within the cut-off time,” she says.
“When you run, you train your mind. Sport keeps you alive and motivated to achieve your goal. I take the same philosophy from sport to work: break the journey into smaller milestones,” Ranjana says, explaining how the learning from one domain overlaps with the learning from another. Clearly, she would love everyone to embrace sport as a key part of their life.
“I missed out on a foundation (in sports) despite being having been an army kid with good sports facilities available. There was nobody to guide me about the choice of sport,” she says wistfully taking her mind back a few years. “It is important that our young get a good foundation and that we instill the spirit of sports in them.”
Her own children, son Nimai and daughter Myra, are learning skills at the swimming pool. “It is important for them to see what we do as parents; that we put in the hard work as well,” says Ranjana. “But when they are at the pool, even a small gesture as showing them a thumbs-up goes a long way. They find the acknowledgment and the appreciation motivating.”
At workplace, she is on the verge of succeeding in motivating her colleagues to step out and play sport. “There was a time when my partner would introduce me as a triathlete, even though I had not yet swum in open waters or taken part in my first competition. I could sense the pride when she would do that,” Ranjana says.
She has already recalibrated her goal to read the IronMan in Korea in September. “I know that India’s first IronMan is a woman – Anu Vaidyanathan. And I know some Indian men who have successfully completed IronMan events. I want to be in that select band of Indian women who finish a full IronMan,” she says.
Interestingly, her desire to be a triathlete did not throw her life off balance. She balanced her work and home life just as effectively as she trained to realise the cherished goal. Being an entrepreneur helps her be flexible with her time at work. “I work as hard as anyone else. I reach office early so that I can finish my run. Or, I leave early so that I can include an hour of fitness work,” she says.
“At times, I stop on a run to take calls from clients. At other times, I am reading mails when training. Of course, there is little TV-watching time. The adrenaline rush makes up for that,” she says. “My children have made sacrifices, too, but they are so supportive and encouraging that when I don’t step out to train, they question me. Of course, they want the weekend to themselves!”
For someone who started romancing the distances only five years ago – primarily to lose weight – Ranjana has come a long way. She has already inspired many around her to believe that it is not tough to incorporate a fitness regime in their daily lives. Surely, her ability to balance work and home lives and spice them up with a healthy dose of sport is worthy of being emulated.