Meditation, innovative fitness regimen and onion pakodas! For badminton champion PV Sindhu, the current lockdown is proving to be an unusual experience. While she still focusses on fitness, this phase is also helping the shuttler dabble in new things, such as cooking. And, yes, cleaning the house.
The 24-year-old insists that it is important to be patient and stay positive. “I have been trying to prepare snacks like onion pakodas,” she says. “My mom (P Vijaya, a former international volleyballer) is giving me invaluable tips.” Despite the pakodas, Sindhu is still fairly disciplined about her diet. “I am not supposed to eat much even if there is mutton kheema which I like a lot. Occasionally, I manage to taste it now,” she laughs, adding, “I am also helping my mom keep the house clean.”
To keep fit, she follows a fitness app, issued by her trainer VM Srikanth, under the guidance of her father (PV Ramana). “There are fitness routines using terra bands, weight jackets and dumbbells of different weights,” says Sindhu, adding “I do meditation thanks to the guidance of Sri Ram Chandra Mission (Hyderabad).” And what about practice? “I have to stay in touch with the sport and my father conducts wall-practice sessions for 45 minutes which maintains the desired reflexes.”
The champion performer says she also gets to spend time with her nephew Aaryan now, besides listening to music and watching Netflix.
Can sports be a priority now? Sindhu says, “No one can think of anything else except fighting the virus. It is the responsibility of every citizen to respect the guidelines of both the Central and the State Governments which are doing a great job.”
When international table tennis star Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, 27, usually returns home to Chennai after a long tour, his mother says in jest that he is back at his guest house. For, like many professional sportspeople, his visits home are sparse and short. So, even a quotidian affair, like a family dinner, becomes special. The COVID-19 lockdown, in this regard, has been an unasked-for boon for Sathiyan. He has been eating home-cooked meals, watching Malayalam movies (he mentions Trance, Kumbalangi Nights and Ustad Hotel) with his mother, and restarted a hobby he had abandoned after college: reading. (He is currently reading Usain Bolt’s autobiography, Faster Than Lightning and Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.)
But Sathiyan understands he is not in the middle of a summer vacation. “This is an unprecedented situation and it’s been tough for all of us,” he says, “You got to keep your mind and body active to not lose track of your game and fitness.”
He wakes up early morning every day for his fitness routines with trainer Ramji Srinivasan (who has had a stint with the Indian cricket team as well). “I head to the terrace and via video call, I work on my fitness with him. I do some jumps, strength training and exercises with some equipment I have.”
In the evenings, he plays table tennis against a remote-operated robot (Butterfly Amicus Prime for advanced players) that he had recently imported from Germany.
He has also taken to yoga and visualisation techniques. He spends the rest of his time talking to junior players and his fans on social media. With the lockdown now extended till May 3, Sathiyan is planning to take up gardening, too.
Mumbai-based Saijid Chougle’s joy in life is to jump off cliffs or aeroplanes. A BASE jumper and a sky diver, he travels all over the world exploring new spots to dive from. This includes cliffs in Norway, Chikmagalur in Karnataka and Konkankanda in Maharasthra. “I started skydiving in 2011 when I was in Philadelphia and in 2017 I got hooked on to BASE jumping,” says Chougle.
Now at home, he satiates his adrenaline rush with videos. One of his latest Instagram videos shows him strapped up in safety gear, a helmet and a backpack as he prepares to launch off what looks like a folded rug. He then glides through air, on the way encountering squeaky toy ducks and paper flying past. Shot in his bedroom, the whole sequence was recorded with him lying on the floor as he enacted movements that normally happen during the course of a jump. “The camera was tied to the ceiling fan,” laughs the 37-year-old. “I dragged my mother to help me with the deployment sequence. She had to pull the parachute,” he adds. His latest video shows him leaping out of a plane and landing on his bed.
Chougle is also keeping himself busy with regular abdomen exercises and a stretching routine. “I do three sets of crunches, cycling, wind shields and planks. I use an app called Splits Training to improve my flexibility and get to full splits,” he says.
With football and all other sports coming to a standstill around the world, India and Bengaluru FC (BFC) star Sunil Chhetri is doing his best to keep himself occupied. He tried his hand at cooking, but it didn’t go as planned. The experiment ended with Chhetri being kicked out of the kitchen by his wife, after he somehow managed to get a small bowl stuck inside a bigger one. The normally supremely-fit footballer is not ashamed to admit that he has let himself go a little bit. “I’ve lost the plot at the moment — chole-puri, samosas, vegan pizzas are being demolished at an alarming rate,” Chhetri posted on Twitter a few weeks earlier, accompanied with a ‘gif’ of a man stuffing his face with food.
With cooking out of the picture, Chhetri is back to the more familiar routine of reading. At the moment, he is reading best-selling science book Cosmos, written by astronomer and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sagan. “I’m spending time reading, catching up on some fantastic shows on TV, and keeping myself fit. There are household chores that I’ve slowly become very good at. I’m also turning to games of Ludo online every day with a few of the lads on the team. I have to keep the competitive edge alive,” Chhetri says.
Chhetri does miss being on the football field, but he is aware that there are bigger issues to tackle. “What’s made this a little bearable is that we just got done with our season. But I will be honest, football is the last thing on my mind at the moment. It’s easy for us sitting at home to talk about what we miss doing. We’re fortunate. There are so many out there who are struggling to get meals and don’t have a roof over their head,” says the 35-year-old.
24-year-old Isaack Koshy misses his team mates. In this case, two beautiful horses named Unique and Ricardo. He’s been training with Ricardo for eight years and with Unique for six years. Koshy, a former national level equestrian and currently the chief trainer at the Madras School of Equitation, Guindy, is accustomed to the outdoors, starting his day at 4 am with horses. He rides Unique and Ricardo and then trains children in the fine art of equitation. Then by 9.15 he’s at his workplace — Chola Wealth where he is part of the Digital team.
But the recent lockdown has turned his schedule topsy turvy. He now wakes up at 8 am and by 8.30 starts his office work from home. “I miss training, teaching and interacting with students. That is my passion,” says Koshy. The junior and senior instructors whom he has trained reside within the premises of the riding school and they send Koshy videos of the horses. “I give them a weekly plan for the horses. This includes free schooling and lunging,” he explains. In order to make up for the break in training and keep abreast of what is the latest in the world of riding, he watches videos on Show Jumping Clinic, a website where top level riders upload content of what they do.
Earlier, evenings were spent going for long walks. But Koshy now prefers to remain indoors. “In the evenings I do a 100 each of pushups, squats and crunches. On some days, I also do Tabata workouts,” he says. He confesses he used to be meticulous about his diet, usually two boiled eggs for breakfast. Lunch would be rice, vegetable, dal and chicken; and chicken soup for dinner. “Now I eat whatever mom’s cooking,” he laughs.
Sports, in these unprecedented times, is inessential — despite millions of us missing it, longing for its return, hoping to watch our favourite stars in action once again. For some of the athletes — especially the accomplished stars — the lockdown is perhaps an unforeseen vacation. But for many, who are still building their career, this is temporary unemployment.
This is especially true in the case of tennis. It’s tough to earn points and money if you are ranked outside the top-50. The lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic for Prajnesh Gunneswaran, ranked 132nd (second-highest Indian in the ATP ladder), is understandably an undesirable situation. But he acknowledges that his struggle pales in comparison to millions of underprivileged people across the world. “Tennis, at this moment, isn’t that important. The main concern should be safety, putting food on the plate,” he says.
Being confined to his home isn’t new for Gunneswaran, a few prior injuries had done this to him. But there is a risk of getting stuck in a rut if the players are fit but aren’t playing. Gunneswaran acknowledges this challenge. “You have to keep your mind sharp and the body fit. So, I do some basic exercises everyday.”
A fan of Tamil movies, Gunneswaran is catching up on the ones he had missed. “Like most Tamilians, I like Rajinikanth. I recently watched Darbar. And, I watch a bunch of shows on Netflix. Money Heist is something that I am currently watching.”