Let me be ME

Archive for September, 2020

Curvy and Cheeky ,Attitude knows no boundaries: Ami Paneri

Ami Paneri

An IT professional, progressive runner, determined triathlete,self-motivator, nothing weighs her down-both figuratively and literally, a total novice in the athletic world, cycling lover, mother of two- Ami Paneri from Mumbai.

Motherhood and the aftermath

I was the eldest of the three siblings, always an obedient and studious girl. I loved playing with electronic items more than dolls, thanks to my dad. He worked in ISRO, and gadgets were a significant part of family discussions. I was an outdoor child. Playing in the wild, running on trails, and burning the skin under the sun were my favorite things.

I learned cycling on hired Tobo bikes and got my first personal cycle in grade 6. It was a prized possession.

Since then, the cycle was my mode of transport to school and then to college as well.

I completed my MSc, M.Phil, and secured a gold medal in computer science.

In 2007, I got married and shifted to Mumbai from Gandhinagar. I started working as an ERP professional.

In 2008 I had my first child. After six months of maternity leave due to several reasons, I could not join back to work. I was loaded with heaps of responsibilities of a young child, mother in law, and self. 

I faced the most challenging time between 2009-11; the postpartum phase.

I was irritable all the time and was piling on weight. My health was deteriorating. I had lost interest in everything. There were regular tiffs and arguments at home.

I was missing myself.

In 2011 I had my second child. I weighed a whopping 90 plus kgs now.

I gradually started with regular gym and weight training. I loved that one hour in the morning, all to myself.

Motherhood is joyous, but it can also be overwhelming. Everyone congratulates you on having a baby, but no one warns about the aftermath, mainly postpartum depression.

says Ami

Gaining back the confidence 

It’s told that I speak “heavy” words, but now I was proving it correct. I was so heavy that I became self-conscious all the time. I would avoid going to public places, meeting people, and would avoid the gym at the “crowded” time. I would avoid arms workout at the gym as the bulge embarrassed me.

In 2011, my husband participated in the SCMM Dream Run, and I went along. The electrifying environment zapped me. 

I wanted to be there- running.

I wanted that zeal and energy- and I had none.

The best thing that happened during this time was, I got back to work. It was a welcoming change. I was happy to move out and sort my routine.

In 2013, I participated in SCMM half marathon and somehow managed to drag myself and reach the finish line in 3.37 hours.

I realized what it takes to run and finish.

I had no idea about training, so I started running independently. I managed between kids, work, and home.

In 2015 I participated in the SCMM half marathon and finished in an abysmal timing of 3.58 hours.

I didn’t progress but digressed. I was missing out on something, but couldn’t figure out what.

In 2016, I joined Pinkathon. I was incredibly body-conscious and would run before the sunshine to hide from the eyes watching an overweight female trying to run.

Pinkathon helped me realize that many like me are struggling with body shaming and the social stigma attached to it. I had lots of co-sisters sailing in the same boat. I gradually gained confidence and started running in a group.

“You’re so much more than the numbers on your plus size lingerie”

In 2016, a friend organized Wada Duathlon and asked me to participate. I was thrilled. I got my cycle, and long lost love was back in full form. Cycling is my childhood love, and once I am on my bike, I am the happiest person around.

I gradually started coming back to my happy and confident form.

In 2017 I participated In Wada Duathlon yet again and stood first.

In the same year, I did my first 80 km ride to Kharghar with the Malad cycling club.

Ah! I was flying.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930), author of Sherlock Holmes

The Ladakh Marathon: in quest of a timing certificate

In 2018 My husband registered for the Ladakh marathon and I wanted to participate as well. After booking the flight tickets with an overdose of excitement, the reality came crashing on me.

I didn’t fit the eligibility criterion. I did not have a required timing certificate.

Viv came to my rescue. What would I ever do without his meticulous training plans?When I shared my desire to participate in the marathon, he gladly welcomed my thought and encouraged me to train hard.

Myself and Sopan at the Ladkah Marathon

I participated in several 10 K runs.

I was chasing races and timing. I was desperate.

And finally, from 1.40hrs, I managed 1.18hrs for a 10K run.

Whatta delight! I had the timing certificate, and I was going for the Ladakh marathon.

I finished the marathon and it was a great confidence booster for me.

Trying the Tri

Our training group, MMA(Mad Menon Academy), is always buzzing with interesting discussion. This time the term Triathlon caught my attention.

Further, it was revealed that Triathlon is a combination of three sports, swimming, cycling, and running one after the other.

As I mentioned, heavy is my second name, so I took this “heavy” decision to participate in the Kolhapur triathlon 2018.

The primary issue was – I didn’t know how to swim. Swimming for me was splashing in the water and nothing more.

My husband ,Sopan became my teammate. I would take him to a 25 meters pool and ask him to stand at a distance of 15 meters, enough for me to push myself from one end, float, and then hold me to start the same process all over again until I finish the entire lap.

I would also refrain from putting my head down in the water.

Shankar Thapa came as a guiding light. I gradually improved my swimming from 15-100-500-700 to finally 1000 meters.

With all the training and hard work, I was still not losing weight.

As William Blake said, The true method of knowledge is an experiment. So, I did what all it could take to shed the extra kilos. The catch here was that I was following google knowledge, and in this process, I compromised on my immunity.

I had worked hard, but I was not in good shape, health-wise.

Still, with firm thought and the belief to reach the finish line I, along with my husband, headed to Kolhapur to participate in the first Triathlon.

We both panicked in the open water swim, and it was a DNF.

Kolhapur Tri

In February 2019, I participated in my home turf, Gandhinagar Triathlon. It was a pool swim with a uniform depth across the pool. As I jumped in the pool, I panicked yet again. The lifeguards prompted me to pull me out, but I requested them to give me a few minutes to regain my composure. 

I was angry with myself. I took a deep breath, asked my mind to shut up, and firmly told myself, “Ami, this can’t happen again-just; go for it,” and I swam through the entire distance.

I finished the Olympic Distance in 4.21 hours

I had to complete the unfinished battle. In November 2019, I participated in the Kolhapur triathlon, this time for the Olympic distance.

I finished in 4.29 hours.

I shall continue to work hard under my coach’s guidance and will try to improve in the upcoming races.

Curves and the social stigma

I have faced enough questions about my weight. I have hidden under large clothing, covered my arms, and ran alone not to expose myself to the world.

I hid for a very long time.

“If losing weight was easy, we would all be skinny.”

Steven Magee

Participating in the running and triathlon events, with the support and encouragement from the family, fellow runners, and coach, I accepted myself as me. I can now run in broad daylight, wear cycling shorts, and swim in a bikini.

I have overcome all body shame, and here I stand beholding my confidence firm in my gait, and yes, I still use “heavy” words!

You are beautiful because of the light you carry inside you. You are beautiful because you say you are, and you hold yourself that way.

Mary Lambert

A Podium Mother- Smithaa Kajale

Smitha Kajale

A civil engineer by profession, winner of several cycling races, 3rd rank holder at Kolhapur triathlon 2019, 2nd rank holder at Nagpur Triathlon 2020, National qualifier at Nashik association championship 2020, a struggler in all the races due to her menopause stage, yet a winner at many, married at 18 and first child at 19 years of age, here is 45 years old Smitha Kajale from Thane.

Air force background and marriage at 18

I was born in Kolkata, and my father was in the Indian Air Force. My father had his last posting at Nashik, and he took a retirement there and joined HAL. I got into Chemical Engineering when my parents decided to get me married as they did not want to let go a suitable and desirable match. 

I got married at 18 and had my first child at 19. 

I continued with my education and completed my bachelor’s in civil engineering.

My second child was born when I was 26 years old. I never walked leave aside, exercising. Being young and occupied with children and work, I never felt the need for any physical workout. 

After my second child, I started with short walks. Even walking a kilometer was a colossal task. My husband and I decided to start with regular morning brisk walks. It was refreshing to walk and talk amidst all the duties and busy schedules.

The casual fitness journey

Going fast forward, when my elder son turned 19, he started going to a nearby gym, and I followed his footsteps. I got into a habit of regular workout and weight training. 

My younger son winning a Gold at time-trial, Guwahati

When my younger son turned 17, he started outdoor cycling and gradually cycling became his passion. His passion did not remain confined to casual cycling, but he started participating in the races. He did MTB Nashik, thane cycling championship, and in December 2017, he won the gold medal at the national time trial.

He then suggested me to start riding. He was sure that I would enjoy riding. 

I was getting bored with the gym. I get bored by the mundane routine; hence I bought a basic cycle and started cycling in December 2018.

In February 2019, I won the First Prize at Navi Mumbai maha cyclothon and a 10k cash prize

In March 2019, I won the 3rd Prize in the open category at Pedal cyclothon

In April 2019, I won the 3rd Prize in the open category at Borivili Cycling association Time Trial

I started loving my finishes and the joy of winning.

It is said that a child gives birth to a mother, and truly my children gave birth to a new me.

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

-Anonymous

How Triathlon?

Someone in the cycling group suggested about Triathlon. Triathlon was attractive, and the excitement to do three sports was gripping, but the issue was- I had never run until now!

I then thought and considered the upcoming episodes when my elder was already working in the U.S., and the younger one would leave soon, I would be free from their day to day responsibility.

Our life revolves around our children in motherhood, and they become our first and topmost priority. I was no different. The empty nest syndrome was daunting, and I needed to distract myself.

I decided to take the plunge and try out this new breed of excitement in my life-Triathlon.

3rd Position at Kolhapur Tri

Under the guidance of Viv Menon for triathlon plans and Nimesh for swimming, I participated in the Kolhapur triathlon (Olympic distance) and stood 3rd.

My first experience of open water swim at Kolhapur, and I was kicked, smashed, punched all over due to the massive number of participants.

After Kolhapur, I thought enough of Triathlon, let me now go back to cycling.

Meanwhile, someone mentioned about Tigerman Tri, Nagpur in Feb 2020. My previous doubts vanished, and I registered for the event.

“Sometimes we have one chance, to ride that wave, one opportunity to jump on, take a deep breath and feel the rush of adrenaline. . . don’t miss your chance.”

― Heidi Reagan

A week before the Tigerman event, I came across the Nashik Tri association championship. The championship was attractive, and with a discussion with my coach Viv, I registered for the event.

In February, I knew that Nashik would be cold, and I didn’t have the wetsuit for the race. Hence I started going for early morning swims and bathing in cold water to acclimatize my body.

The race mentioned that the swim would be in the pool, and I took a sigh of relief.

When I collected my bib, I was informed that the swim would take place in a dam(water reservoir). I couldn’t sleep for the entire night.

The race morning was horrifying than the revelation of the previous eve.

To my amazement, there were no ropes, buoys, or any emergency evacuation.

4th position in Nashik district triathlon

Upon questioning, the officials made it clear that the race was a time trial for the national qualifier and is a self-supported race.

I took a while to register this fact. My throat went dry. In already cold weather, I stood there, shivering in a swimsuit.

I prayed and chanted what I could remember and asked my husband to wait for me until I completed my swim and jumped in the water.

2nd position in Tigerman Triathlon

I finished 1500 meters of swim course in 35 mins. After completing the bike course, which was an undulating path and run that happened in scoring heat, I stood 4th

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

–Dale Carnegie

A week after I participated in Tigerman Triathlon, Nagpur and stood  2nd.

Menopause and training

For the event in November, I started training in June 2019. At the same time, I had to travel to Pennysylvania to my elder son. There the issue of menopause started. I was continuously bleeding heavily for week-10 days and changing menstrual cups every hour. Without a country-specific prescription, I could not take any medications in the U.S. hence. I continued in the same state until I returned to India.

I felt weak and lacked stamina. I consulted my physician as the race was nearing, and I had to get into vigorous training.

My blood test reports were not at all satisfying. My hemoglobin was at 8. My physician strictly advised me not to attempt any race, which was just two months away.

“Do not attempt doesn’t fit in my psyche” hence I asked for a solution. He advised for an Intravenous blood transfusion. I readily agreed and went to his clinic after work and got the I.V.

Races during my menopause phase

It is common to get a fever after the I.V., and I got it too.

My husband was concerned for me; he was always intrigued by this training idea and kept asking me,” Kyun Kar Rahi ho?”(why are you doing?)

I recovered the hemoglobin level, but my bleeding didn’t stop.

Thankfully just ten days before the race day, God showed mercy on me, and I wasn’t bleeding any more.

I could say one thing,”der aae durust aae”

Nashik and Tigerman, two consecutive races

On the eve of the Kolahour tri, I went for the bike route recce with my husband, exhausted in just 2-3 kms. I was anxious about the race the next day.

I believe that the mind conspires what you start thinking, I had made up my mind to finish the race, and I did.

From my menopause episode I can only conclude that,

“Leaders bleed, period.”

― Silvia Young, My FemTruth: Scandalous Survival Stories

The family bond

My boys are my pillars of strength. There has been no race when my husband has not been there to cheer, support, and encourage me. My two boys were my initial coach, guides, and mentor. I followed their footsteps in my workout/fitness journey as well as cycling.

What’s next?

I enrolled for Ironman 70.3 in Boulder, USA, but due to COVID, all the races got canceled. I will attempt the race whenever the racing season opens.

I aim to continue on my fitness journey and emerge as a more vital human being mentally and physically.

“A woman’s health is her capital.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Dabang Maa: Sunita Dhote

Sunita Dhote

Mother of two boys, a Fauji kid, Asia book of records holder, represented India in Canada for somersault competition, a college professor by profession, thrice failed attempts for Ironman to a successful finisher, a woman who stood for her passion in a family where the only job of a bahu(bride) was to do household chores. Rendevous with 48 years old, Sunita Dhote from Nagpur.

Fauji childhood

My father was in the Indian Airforce, and I’ve been born and bought up all over India. I call myself as Bharat ki Beti.
My childhood was disciplined and strict. My father used to wake us up (myself and my younger brother) at 5 am, and we were then supposed to take four rounds of the park in the vicinity. Any mischievous act or cheating would result in additional drills.
We learned cycling on hired bikes for a rent of 10 paise per hour. Mistakes would result in thappads (tight slaps).
I was annoyed at that time, but now I understand the significance of discipline that my father instilled in us.
I was into sports right from the very beginning. I got selected for state high jump when Papa was posted in Guwahati. I wasn’t allowed to participate in nationals with the fear that high jump would make me taller, and I won’t get a desirable match.
By the time I reached my tenth grade, sports were just a memory, and the entire focus shifted towards studies.
I did my B.com, M.com, MBA, and Ph.D
I was an obedient daughter.

Marriage and the grind

I got married in a business family, and no sooner I entered my in-law’s place, all maids at home were given permanent off from their duties.
I was a full-time maid now. Right from washing the clothes, utensils, cooking, and every little chore was my responsibility.
I have no regret; instead, I am grateful to my mother-in-law for teaching me patience.

She cribbed and I listened.

This habit taught me how not to react unnecessarily and carry on with your task. She made me physiologically strong- a much-needed trait of an athlete.
It was during my honeymoon to Nepal that I had a glimpse of the golden pagodas. I wanted to run to the top and shared the desire with my husband. He gladly agreed, and within no time, I saw myself running on the trail towards the pagoda. The hidden sports person was still alive. When I reached the top, a stranger shared a message; my husband was waiting for me.

He didn’t climb.

At this point, I resolve that come what may, my children will not be the ones waiting down but the ones who would climb the fastest.

I finished my Ph.D. in 2011 and settled for a job. I understood that it was essential to be financially independent.

Having been traveled all across India with my father, I was a keen traveler but never got an opportunity post-marriage.

During one of the exchange programs, I got an opportunity to travel to Seattle and stay at the Microsoft research center. I loved the experience of being on my own and interact with people across the globe. I was impressed by their discipline, eating habits, and zing for life.
I came back with a determination – I have to take charge of my life. I will not fall into this rut.

The beginning

The group study exchange program to Seattle was a game-changer. Another episode that triggered my thought process was when I was an entrepreneurship faculty, and I talked to the students about passion. I read many autobiographies in this process, and each story had primary learning- follow your passion.

Rotary group exchange program

It filled me with energy and determination.

After my first son was born, I started to learn swimming. I wasn’t allowed to swim in childhood owing to a reason that if I turn dark, then I won’t get a suitable match!

I used to go to the pool nearby, considering all the eyes watching me or even following. I used to hide my swimming costume in a towel, dry my hair, and dress up “appropriately” for this adventure.

“learning and achieving smaller things make you happy.”

chirps Sunita

In 2012, I stood first in 100 meters butterfly championship.

I now wanted to learn more. So, I went ahead and learned about diving.
I was allowed to carry on with whatever I wish to with the condition that children should not be neglected and the house well attended. So, I used to take my children along to the pool. In this process, they also learned swimming (win-win situation).

When life gives you restrictions, don’t flutter in a cage; instead, look for that one little opportunity to fly out.

believes Sunita

Within five to six years, I was a diving champion.

Even now, I was struggling at somersault. I pleaded a child in the pool to teach me. I was 41 years at this point. That child made me do 100 meters of front and roll and said confidently, “you are ready.” I could now do front and reverse somersaults.

I represented India in 2014 in Canada for somersault championships. I was an enthralling moment when my name heard my name, Sunita Dhote, India.

I was beginning to enjoy my life my filled with confidence and joy.

To add to my newly discovered joy, I did solo cycling from Nagpur to Pondicherry of a total distance of 1412 km in 6 days and registered my name in the Asia book of records.

Multiple failures and finally a successful Ironman finish

In 2017 a friend introduced the word Triathlon. With an assumption that it’s just swimming, cycle, and run, I enrolled for Pune triathlon, sprint distance. To my dismay, after the swim and the bike, I couldn’t manage to run.

Being a total novice, I participated in the race empty stomach.
I was unaware of the word nutrition.

The same year I enrolled for the Hyderabad triathlon, and it was a DNF. I attempted thrice and failed.

Three failed attempts at Hyderabad Tri

I kept trying.

Life is all about trying.

says Sunita

The “chipko andollan” movement is imbibed in me; hence I don’t leave until done.

In 2018, finally, I could finish the race in 9hrs 15 mins.

A friend told me about systematic training, planning, and nutrition. I then took proper coaching and participated in the Dubai ironman.

Ten days before the race, I had two bad falls, and my training came to a standstill. But I am a stubborn soul, and I was determined to fly to Dubai for the race.

I swam for the first time in a wetsuit, and the clear water gave a feeling of “patal lok” I clocked my PB in the swim. Cycling was comfortable, and during the run, I followed a strategy to run pole to pole.
Dubai IM finish was blissfully satisfying.

I became the first woman from the Vidarbha region to have completed the Ironman race.

When I came back and showed the medal to my family, my husband had a blank expression, and he could only ask me,” iske liye itni mehnat?(so much of effort just for this medal?)”

Sunita at the finish line

It is difficult to explain your desires and passion, so it’s better to keep the hustle on and move forward.

The training was a tricky part. I used to put a cycle in my car, wear the cycling gear, and cover it with a salwar suit (formal dress).
Once the college used to get over, I drove to the highway, parked my car, and did a three-hour cycle, and returned home.
There were several episodes where I had to manage the timing and surroundings efficiently.

You have to decide what you have to do, then be on it, come what may”

says determined Sunita

Life is about how you face it.

When I did my solo cycling, my elder son was in grade 10. I had a lot of “Gyan” for everyone around that I was an irresponsible mother who has left her son behind in the crucial year.
During a press conference for the Asia book of records, a media person had serious doubt on my grit and daring to do a solo ride. I wanted to reply,”are you scared of a woman being on her own or are you feeling insecure”(pun intended)

Sunita, with her sons


I didn’t allow life to churn me, but I did the other way round.


I sponsor the races on my own. I ensured that I bought up boys with discipline and integrity.
Work colleagues who once questioned my caliber now have the utmost respect for me.
My son does 200 crunches, and we are quite competitive about it(in all humor). He also cooks a fantastic meal.


My nickname is Sona(means gold), and one property of gold is that it glitters the most when it is rubbed hard and rough.

grins Sunita

It is my time to glow, and I’ll ensure that I shine the brightest.

that’s sunita’s promise to herself

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