I can remember distinctly that I was a sporty kid who was mostly outdoors, playing games, climbing trees, rolling in the grass and the mud, running around all over the place, adorned at most times with bunch of knee & elbow bruises. I guess I was lucky to have lived in places where there was a lot of open space.
I learnt many different sports in bits: cricket, football, taekwondo, table tennis, basketball. However, as my family shifted cities quite frequently, I didn’t get to pick up one sport and excel at it. I could get formal coaching only for very limited periods: a summer camp for cricket and about 2 years for taekwondo. Otherwise, it was only what I picked up by playing with friends and schoolmates; I think all the schools that I had attended had poor or non-existent sports programs.
By the time I entered college, I was a jack of all sports and a master of none. I tried my hand out at 17 sports at IIT Bombay: cricket, football, hockey, badminton, tennis, squash, table tennis, weight-lifting, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, chess, carrom, cross-country running (crossie), long jump, sprinting and in the last 2 years “Goaltimate”. I was in the hostel team for cricket, football, hockey, crossie through the years and I also played with the IITB football team at the district level.
At IIMA, I focused on playing football and “goaltimate” which in many ways laid the foundation for the sport that I have been playing from 2010 onwards, Ultimate Frisbee. But before I get to that, let me first write about the lull in between – the period from 2004 to 2007. Post IIMA, I shifted to Surat, where unlike campus, there aren’t any natural avenues of play. You then have to find gyms to go to, or join an expensive club to play sports such as badminton, tennis or to swim. I tried my hand at joining a local football club, but distance and cultural barriers prevented that from happening on a regular basis. This was a period in which I put on about 10 kgs.
The momentum shift happened when I attended a life-changing workshop with the Oasis Personal Development Institute based on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I made a personal mission statement as part of this workshop, in which one of the points was:
Be healthy, fit and active in sports till my last day
It was only then I resolved to find a physical activity and started running half-marathons in 2008 or so when the marathon culture was just becoming visible in India due to the Mumbai Marathon. At that time, I was amongst the very few runners from Surat and therefore most of my training was on my own. Luckily, I had access to Rujuta Diwekar’s scientific training plan which I used consistently to great benefit. It included different ways of running, strength training, stretching and cross training exercises. I was able go from a timing of 2:13 in first half-marathon to my personal best of 1:52 in the Sabarmati half-marathon in about 2-3 years time.
This was also professionally one of my busiest times – with the Fountainhead School campus being set up in 2008. But thanks to support from my wife, I was able to work towards the goal of becoming fitter consistently. But after about 2 years, I started itching to really play. Running was a great way to get me back onto the fitness track, but I found it a rather boring and lonely exercise. It is play that involves a team and involves skills that really excites me. And with that in mind, I was looking for sports to play when I came across the Ahmedabad Ultimate Open in Dec 2010 which I played as a newbie player in a pickup team.
Having got a taste of the joys of Ultimate Frisbee, I guess I haven’t looked back since then. I now play for a top club team called Jumbish. And there are 8-10 teams in Surat in 2016 after I introduced Ultimate Frisbee into Surat in 2011, of which 4-5 of them are regular in the Indian National Tournaments circuit.
I have also represented India twice at international tournament, at WCBU Dubai in 2015 and WUGC London in 2016 in the masters division (33+ age group). I was able to fulfill one of my childhood dreams of being a sportsperson and playing at the highest levels. Of course, while I can say that I am naturally talented at sports, and reasonably fit for my age, but I have been lucky to be a part of an emerging sport like Ultimate Frisbee rather than an established sport. The sport is still new in India and that has allowed me and other players from Surat to represent India.
That’s been my sporting journey. The journey has motivated me to keep myself fit. I know that to be able to keep up with really fast 16-17 year old I need to workout regularly. To prevent injuries from intense play that Ultimate requires, I need to strengthen myself and that has really helped me be rather consistent with working out in the gym, which otherwise is a boring business!
Play is also highly invigorating mentally, especially a short burst of it. I experienced it very recently on a day when I was feeling really fatigued, dull and I felt as if I had achieved nothing at work that day and as a result of that I was stressed. Luckily a few of us at school were able to get together to play for for just about 30 min. I was completely engrossed in the activity and just as the camp ended, I realized that the day was suddenly so much better. Of course, there are numerous scientific studies which show these clear connections between physical activity and the release of chemicals that make you feel better. I just experienced a strong dose of that research, almost like an epiphany out of the blue.
I also think that playing a sport regularly has been a strong de-stresser for me over the years; I would say that by nature I am not the kind of person who gets stressed in the first place, but play has kept modern-lifestyle as well as self-induced stress levels at pretty low levels. In a workshop that I attended, the facilitator used to talk about “football meditation is just as effective” as a response to those who claimed that meditation to de-stress them. I guess that for me it’s “Ultimate Frisbee Meditation”. When I get on to the field, everything else gets switched off. My focus is only on what’s happening in the field – work issues, politics, global warming, money or relationship issues are all forgotten for those hours that I spend chasing the disc and thinking of that awesome blade throw that I made over the defense. Play has kept my sanity intact, and perhaps made me even more emotionally aware of myself, my motivations, my frustrations.
Of course, does that mean that we should play all day long? I sometimes think that when I play. In another post, I have wondered if we would be happy to play all day long (and I don’t think we would be). But I guess that’s not the point – it’s so much fun as well as such a stress buster! My sporting activities have allowed me to be energetic pretty much throughout the day, they’ve kept me sharp at work and at home (revelations in my so-very non-humble way).
While some people raise a few eyebrows and look at me funnily when I talk about playing a sport at my age – most others are appreciative and supportive. My recommendation is that play and games should be for everyone, for adults, for the old, for the girls, for the busy, for the poor, for the rich. And it takes a lot of effort to make this happen but there’s so much joy and energy that come along with it. Plus play is such a great leveller. I have had interactions with players from such a diverse range of communities due to this sport that would not have happened otherwise.
All in all I would say, keep playing in balance, for balance in life!