The Hollow Medals

Rajat Chauhan
Published: 12, Apr 2013

Rajat is a militant advocate of increased physical activity and exercises for all. He has been running for last 28 years and in his spare time is a doctor specializing in Medical-Osteopathy, Musculo-Skeletal Medicine (London College of Osteopathic Medicine) and Sports-Exercise Medicine (Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham). He also is the Founder & Race Director of La Ultra - The High, the world's cruelest & highest ultra marathon - 222 km in Leh. He loves to turn conventional wisdom on its head, esp. in sickness industry, which some people also know as Healthcare industry. But all of what he says or suggests is backed up with scientific evidence. His special interest is in helping all, sedentary to sportspeople, to perform at their optimum levels, whether it be dealing with a disease, pain (back, neck, knee, shoulder etc) or in sports (Golf, Tennis, Running, Football, Swimming etc). Since there is no one answer for all, he has specialized in multi-modality approach ranging from posture correction, muscle balance, physical activity, floor and machine based exercises, acupuncture / dry needling, osteopathic medicine, deep tissue massage, myo-fascial release, mesotherapy, bit of psychotherapy etc. He was elect-Chairperson for World Congress of Science and Medicine in Cricket, that was held just before the 2011 Cricket World Cup in the sub-continent, but decided to quit. He previously headed a London centre of Kieser Training, a Swiss-German chain of rehabilitation centres. He moved to India in 2006 to set-up a Sports & Exercise Medicine department at Manipal Hospital, Bangalore. In mid 2008 he started his own venture called Back 2 Fitness, a musculo-skeletal (aches and pain rehab) medicine and sports & exercise medicine rehabilitation centre, which is now based in Delhi NCR. In 2009, along with a running buddy, he set-up Runners High in Bangalore, a running institute with the intention of training people how to run properly without getting hurt. He is also a columnist with Mint newspaper for over 4 years, where his column is called Treadmill on Business of Life page.

 "We are under exercised as a nation. We look instead of play. We ride instead of walk. Our existence deprives us of the minimum of physical activity essential for healthy living." These words of wisdom by President John F. Kennedy, sums up my passion about the need for a move-mint in India. Our own Mahatma Gandhi had said, "It is health that is real wealth, not pieces of silver and gold."

I was inspired by both of the above statements to come up with the following, "Wealth of a nation should be measured by health & fitness of its youngsters, not by pieces of gold & silver."

My last blog, which was intended as a first in a series promoting increased physical activities, exercise and sports amongst 'regular' Indians, 'Is a gold medal really worth it' has managed to touch a raw nerve amongst the sports fans. Most of them could have been so aroused by the title itself, that they could have rubbished the piece without even reading it. It is an inconvenient truth, and there needs to be an open debate on this. So here I go again.

I didn't reply to any queries on the last blog as all queries really were FAQs, relevant to all.

Just to give you a brief background about myself, so you know where I am coming from, before I am roasted on the holy stake. From the age of 9, I had only one dream, to win an Olympic medal, that too in middle distance running. Besides numbers, there was nothing else that made sense to me like running. By the time I got to high school, I was asked what I wanted to do for life. I simply wanted to run for life. My dad said, "you can then run behind a loaf of bread for life."

I was cajoled and arm twisted to get out of my lala-land and think more realistically. Like most Indian middle class families in the 1980s - 90s, I was advised to become one of the three, engineer, doctor or lawyer. I landed up in a medical college. I only wanted to specialize in Sports Medicine as nothing else made sense. I wanted to do it with one simple goal in mind, to help someone else win an Olympic medal which I had so badly wanted earlier for myself. Once that happened with one of my clients in UK, I was on top of the world for a bit, but soon reality hit me in my face. Winning the Olympic medal didn't change a thing for the regular person on the street.

At that time I was heading a medical strengthening therapy department for Kieser Training, a Swiss-German chain where I had to figure a way out to get 'regular' people out of their aches and pains. Winning that medal made no difference to those folks, not even as motivation or inspiration. To them, all Olympians were super-human beings. They simply couldn't relate to them. The resources and the money spent on that one medal could have helped thousands of them to change their lives forever. Since then, grass-root fitness, whether to address any pain or sickness or just to simply get one better than current level of physical fitness, excites me a lot more.

There is a bottom-up and then there is a top-down approach to trying to win medals. In India, it is top-down, where crores of rupees are spent in an effort to win a medal or two. Nothing wrong with that, if even at grass root level, the same was happening. Of course, that much money first needs to be available.

To me, increased physical activity and sports amongst the public is to look at lot more benefits than only physical, leave alone winning medals. Our current society teaches us how to take the shortest short cut to succeed in life. Majority of folks who have been bitten by the increased sports, exercise and physical activity bug, know that nothing succeeds like hard work, and that there are no short cuts. Punctuality and discipline are again somethings that just are a part and parcel of being more active, where as a couch potato would struggle to understand why would that matter in life.

Even if success of the nation is going to be measured by winning medals alone, we just are going about it being very short-sighted, with no long term plans. If we have a stronger and larger base of fitter people, automatically there will be a higher chance of winning medals versus training a handful. To add to that, if winning those medals or organizing world class events (Commonwealth) doesn't change the culture of the country, we have missed the whole point. Commonwealth Games in Delhi did give us some infrastructure that'll be used by citizens for a long time, but it failed to change the sporting culture at all at the grass-root level.

Whats the point of treating a few 'hand-picked' sportspeople like kings and queens when millions could benefit from the effort, infrastructure and money being put in! Besides changing all their lives forever, and everyone else's they touch, there would be a higher probability of India winning lots more medals. But for now, we first need to set our priorities right.

Everyone talks about saving the Earth. Trust me, it'll do fine. As my mentor in climate change, George Carlin, very rightly pointed out, “Save the planet! We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learnt how to care for one another, we’re gonna save the f****** planet?” Watch his act here.

Do yourselves a favour. Start moving a little bit more. If you already do, great, but then give your loved ones the best gift you possibly could, i.e. get them moving. This Earth Day, i.e. on 21st April, in a city of your choice, get out and just 'Crawl, Walk, Run'. (facebook page). This should be the start of a lifelong lifestyle change, not just a stupid event.

Keep miling and smiling.

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