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.
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 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.
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.
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?)”
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)
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.