Full Ironman- Vichy 2017, First rank in women’s open category at Half Ironman- Hyderabad 2015, First rank in Women’s open category at Pune International 70.3,2017, Second rank at Tata Ultramarathon 2019, third rank in 2020, podium finisher at several renowned cycling and running events, a podium finisher at TFN(Tour of Nilgiris) 2012, BMC(Basic Mountaineering Certification) holder from NIM(Nehru Institute of Mountaineering), extreme adventure junkie, a non-believer of impossible, elite athlete, absolutely grounded human being, women entrepreneur, mother of two, here’s 53 years old, Anjali Bhalinge from Pune.
Sea, ship and unending adventure
My father was in the merchant navy, and I’ve travelled far and wide with my family. Whenever the vessel ported, and my father got busy, my mother ensured to take us to explore the city.
I have seen my father extraordinarily fit and agile hence I have stayed fit and active all through. Fitness activities were a part of a lifestyle like swimming and also cycling to school and then to college. I was a meritorious student and a SSC topper with second rank in Maharashtra. I was focussed towards studies and sports was not even in the radar. I think I am compensating now!
You manifest all your experiences of childhood in your life. Ensure that you give the best to your children too.
I made it a ritual to have an active family vacation during children’s summer and winter break. Even if my husband were busy at work and couldn’t join us, I would take girls for a holiday. Other than the family vacation, I also ensured that I take my solo trips in between either for a trek, scuba, skiing, or any other adventure stuff. I was not keen to buy expensive clothes or provide my girls with luxurious things, but it was vital for me to make them travel for experience.
Blessed Are The Curious For They Shall Have AdventuresLovelle Drachman
Shift, hustle and the discovery
I finished my college in 1988, got married, and my elder one was born in 1991. I was working as a software professional, but I got a chance to go to Japan on elective subjects so I chose Economics for a wider learning experience . I finished the course and came back to India in end of 1994. Software profession didn’t attract me; hence I started a new job as a Japanese technical interpreter. The core nature of the work was monotonous, and I got bored soon. I then worked with a firm to develop Japanese content, but a demanding boss made it difficult for me to continue with the job. I finally plunged into entrepreneurship and started my own exports firm.
By now, my second daughter was born, and life took a complete U-turn. Managing the new business set-up which required me to travel through length and breadth of the country even to the interior rural areas, along with Japan, Chili and Argentina and that too thrice a year .Taking care of two young children, irregular work hours, I realized I was neglecting myself. Staying active was a lifestyle; hence I figured out a possible time after all the chores and got back to swimming.I would religiously swim irrespective of my over hectic schedule.
In 2002, I submitted the application for the Kailash Mansarovar trek, and I was thrilled to get the approval. This was not an easy trek, and it was mandatory to prepare well. Walking was never a part of my fitness journey. Singhaad fort is an excellent place to practise climbing hence I started frequenting here.
This is where my fitness journey started.
It also said that,
Kailash Mansarovar Trek is a life-changing experience, and it changed my life.
Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it
As a preparation for this trek, I started my climbing regularly to Singhaad fort which I continued even after the Kailash trek. All fitness enthusiasts frequented Singhgad fort as it gives a significant elevation as well all the training needed for any endurance race.
It was here that I met people who not only inspired me but also encouraged and guided me at every point. I also got to know about my potential, which I was unwary of all this while.
During one of the weekend practise I came across a group of gentlemen who were in their 60s and were planning to cycle from Goa to Cochin which is 800 plus km. They asked me to join.
Just the thought was petrifying leave aside attempting.
When I showed my reluctance, the gentleman from the group muttered a thought-provoking phrase, “anything is possible if you practise and train”.
I started riding with them on my daughter’s Miss India cycle, which I was using to buy veggies and other house errands.
In 2004 I bought a bike for myself and cycled from Goa to Cochin with the group.
I discovered myself.
“The journey toward self-discovery is life’s greatest adventure.”Arianna Huffington
An accidental entry into racing
During one of the weekends while climbing Sinhadad fort I came across someone with a backpack, torch etc. I was inquisitive and asked him about the getup. He told me that he traverses through the forests at night to observe the snakes as he is a snake researcher. I was pleasantly surprised. He then asked me, “what do I do?”
“what do you do?” is a common question asked in our fitness enthusiast group. It has nothing to do with socio-economic status, but it means,” what other physical activity do you do?”
I told him that I cycle and swim a bit. He offered to ride together. I gladly agreed. After the ride, he suggested that I should join the Pune cycling team.
My jaws dropped in dismay.
I was in my 40s, and getting into an elite team was far beyond my vision.
I respected his suggestion as he was an ex Mumbai-Pune racer and might have seen some potential in me.I got a road bike and participated in the trials for the Pune team.
I was in the first fours to finish and got selected for the Maharashtra team standing along with girls of my daughter’s age!
In 2005, on one of the weekend training hikes, a fellow enthusiast asked me if I run too as he saw me climbing fast. I was casually running around 5-10 km by then. He asked me to join for the half marathon training. I was zapped knowing the distance but decided to give it a try. Coincidently, my mother gifted me a Labrador, and then it became a ritual to run with her every morning. That’s how my running started.
In 2007, I participated in the Mumbai Marathon and stood third.
I was extremely happy for myself.
Thus I started my racing journey, and somehow I grabbed the podiums in most of the races.
Good health, peace of mind, being outdoors, camaraderie: those are all wonderful things that come to you when running. But for me, the real pull of running—the proverbial icing on the cake—has always been racing.”Bill Rodgers, winner of four Boston Marathons
The Tri journey
Whenever I look back, I realize that my triathlon journey started right from childhood. I was swimming, cycling and even running, defiantly it was not for any event, but I was doing on my own and unknowingly building up on stamina as well.
I thought of participating in the Ironman race, but somehow it didn’t work out.
I have a firm belief that when things have to happen, they will, so go with the flow.
Meanwhile, I participated in Enduro (a high paced adventure sport held in Pune). The event lasts for two days, and in a team of three, one participant has to be a female. It is a self-supported event where we have to ride off-road, carry our bikes and climb a steep hill, rappel across a river. The event is a test of stamina and team coordination. I participated in this event for three consecutive years, and after getting a podium in the first two years, our team finally emerged as winners in the third year.
My stamina increased substantially due to gradual progress in all the sports.
I participated in TFN (Tour of Nilgiris) and was a podium finisher in 2012. I also attended the tour of Tamilnadu.
I finally participated in Ironman 70.3, Hyderabad in 2015 after a friend who had already done 15 then(now is over 25) Ironman persuaded me enough.
I stood first in women’s open category.
Sea swim was never fear as I’ve seen the sea very close since childhood and I am also a certified scuba diver.
I was now keen to do a full Ironman. Once I attain a level, I want to raise the bar higher.
Meanwhile, I kept gathering podiums in marathons and other races.
Somehow the podiums fall in my kitty- strange!
“I also realize that winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself.”Meb Keflezighi, 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist
In 2016, I broke my shoulder bone and went on a pause mode for a while.
In 2017, I participated in Full Ironman, Vichy and gracefully completed the race. It was beautiful to see the family at the finish line. My daughter was in the US at that time, and she came to France to cheer me.
This race was a gift to myself on my 50th birthday. The biggest celebration was to cross the finish line. My type of partying!
|2004||Goa-Cochin cycling ride|
|2007||Mumbai Marathon(third position)|
|2012||TFN(Tour Of Nilgiris),podium finisher in race segment|
|2013||Enduro race, winner team|
|2015||Hyderabad 70.3(first position in women’s open category)|
|2019||Basic Mountaineering Course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering|
|2019||Cycling Imphal to Bangkok via Myanmar|
|2019||Boston qualifier at Chicago|
|2019||RAAM qualifier Shivalik Signature,Chandigarh|
|2020||TMM(Tata Mumbai Marathon), Boston qualifier 3:49:20|
|2020||Hiranandani Half marathon, winner in age category|
|2020||Tata Ultra, winner in age category|
|2020||Hall of fame of Everesting, completed half everesting|
Conquering fear; never give up.
It was in 2013 during the Enduro race that I came face to face with acrophobia.The race had a condition that the rappling should be done by the female participant only. It was a nerve wrenching task for me.
I had to overcome this fear.
Fast forward to 2018 regarding battling the fear; I came across a young guy during my fitness journey. In between our conversation, he told me that he was a trekker and aiming to be a mountaineer. He was soon to do a course in Basic Mountaineering from Nehru Institute of mountaineering. I was very excited to hear this, but my excitement faded quickly. He informed me that the age limit was 40 years, and I was way beyond my age.
I was determined to do the course, and I directly called up the Principal at NIM. I requested him to accommodate me; I showed him my keenness and also told him about my accomplishments.
He hanged the call asking me to drop a mail.
It was a clear sign that nothing will materialize.
In 2019, just out of curiosity, I called up the principal again, and he was surprised that he didn’t receive my request mail.
I was disappointed.
But then he asked me to check the website for the eligibility criteria.
As I opened the website, the modified age limit was- 55 years!
He didn’t just make alterations for the age limit but also accommodated me in the immediately mixed batch.
I was indeed the oldest in the group but awardee as the best cadet.
The tough training helped me overcome acrophobia.
Things happen, the universe conspires, don’t give up and keep trying.
“I think (the bicycle) has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice everytime I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and always she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood”The American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony, wrote in 1896
With this belief in November 2019 I did a cycle ride along with a few friends where we rode to Bangkok travelling across three countries, Imphal to Bangkok via Myanmar.
I feel more connected with nature and self when I am on my bike.
I also have an observation that once the lockdown started lifting , the housemaid who has bicycles were the first ones to join back to work than others. Cycling is freedom.
With the lack of races in the lockdown period ,to keep the training going, Everesting became the latest fad. And India is not far behind catching up the trend.
To explain a little, Everesting involves picking a hill anywhere in the world and riding repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m- no walking and no sleeping. It is definitely crazy.
As of now, India has 5 recorded Ride everesings (8848m) and 17 recorded Basecamp Ride Everestings(4424m).
I am officially in Hall of fame of Everesting, completed half everesting.
It always seems impossible until it’s done.”Nelson Mandela
March ahead, what’s there to look back?
I started with racing events much later in life. I didn’t get a coach for the training because I wasn’t preparing for any race. My training subtly started in childhood where I was exposed to all aspects of travel, life, sports and endurance. I wasn’t even aware, but I was building myself one step at a time. When the events started happening, I was already prepared and gave in my best.
“The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.”Pele
For anyone who is preparing of any race, don’t get into a high paced training. Give yourself time, let your body pick up bits and pieces, build upon your stamina, get along with like-minded people, people who motivate and encourage you at every point, give in your best as there are no short cuts to success.
If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds.”Jesse Jackson
As a mother of two, I never lost myself in duties and responsibilities. Today when I see my daughters taking their own decisions, failing and getting up again to fight, I feel proud for being a tough and independent mother. They’ve seen a mother who lives by her terms and has a go-getter spirit.
If you want to raise strong-headed children, then be strong, very strong and keep marching ahead.
At the age of 53, this little girl asks all the ladies to move out and create that hustle- trust me, you’ll not regret.