As she rises from her chair to hug a couple of teenaged trainees on arrival at the sprawling auditorium that hosts her gymnastics academy, it becomes clear the elegant Nidhi Mathur is two stories rolled in one – her own return to fitness and thus regaining self-esteem is poignant and, inspired by her learning, she has introduced fitness concepts to pre-teen and teenaged children.
The 40-year-old Nidhi’s personal fitness story is quite something. Had it not been for her husband, an exercise buff, she was a world away from being fit, especially after gaining massive weight when she was pregnant with their first child. “It seemed so okay to put on weight but when the time came to go out, I backed off,” she recalls.
“I preferred wearing a Punjabi suit and hiding behind the dupatta rather than getting into XXL T shirts and track pants and go to a gym,” she says. However, she was fortunate that her husband’s persistence and encouragement resulted in her stealing her way to a gym but only late in the evenings, away from what she believed were prying eyes of those training there.
“Truth to tell, I agreed to go to a gym since I was too conscious of going to the swimming pool,” she admits. Starting with a slow walk on the treadmill, hands gripping the rails for fear of stumbling, she has now progressed to being able to run 8km effortlessly. What’s more, she is pleased that she can lift weights as well – going up to 25kg when achieving the squats.
“Along the way, I realised that I was being needlessly self-conscious at the gym. I understood that people were not judging me, busy as they were with chasing their own fitness goals and feeling the high of the endorphins they produced,” she says. If anything, she regrets a back condition that prevents her from running on the roads like many others.
From a frustrated, embarrassed woman of 95kg who was hesitant to embrace exercise, she has travelled to a stage where she likes the aches that visit after workouts. “I don’t like it if I don’t feel those aches in my muscles,” she says, her smile growing wider. “More seriously, I realise that the metabolism isn’t the same at 40 as it was at 16.”
Nidhi says the challenge was to take the first step. “And it took me two months to realise that the first couple of kilos has been shed. It became easy to continue working out; there really was no stopping after that. For someone who was scared to go out and wore just Indian outfits, I became more confident and found greater happiness in all that I did,” she says.
Having got her weight down to the 60s, she faced her next challenge: her elder son was gaining weight at a fast pace. “Processed foods, I tell you,” she says – and even a stint in a cricket academy did him no good. “As a parent who believed in and had embraced fitness, I tried to get him to run. He would break into tears and I was left wondering what I could do to help him,” she says.
She realised that solutions were waiting to be discovered. Feeling the need to learn more about children’s fitness in a scientific manner so that she could encourage her son to take the right steps, she signed up for a specialised course at the American Fitness Professionals & Associates in New Jersey in 2014. It was there she realised that her knowledge could benefit other children, too.
She established a gymnastics academy in Gurgaon to satisfy her urge to provide young girls with a safe haven to play sport suited to them. “When I sat back and analysed, the only sports I had ever played as a young girl were hide-and-seek and some swimming when my friend’s father would drive us to the Talkatora Swimming Pool and back,” she recalls.
Starting with two kids who enrolled in the academy set up in a Gurgaon mall, she has now been able to expand to have close to 1,000 children on the rolls at different locations in the National Capital Region of Delhi. “Along the way, I found a good friend and partner in Vitika Banerjee to help me execute the vision of making gymnastics popular with the young ones,” she says.
“The good thing about gymnastics is that it helps the athlete develop flexibility and that can help him or her in any sport that he or she chooses to play later,” Nidhi says. “There is great satisfaction in helping the young, especially girls, learn how to jump and roll in an organised way besides fitness, flexibility and movement. Some of the trainees have gone on to compete at high levels.”
Clearly, the Nidhi Mathur of today would hardly recognise the Nidhi Mathur of a few years ago.