Arunaabh Shah's Facebook status posts (rants) leave me bewildered and thinking - an athlete par excellence, struggling for most part of his student life in Switzerland and a terrific blogger! What stands out about Arunaabh is - He is NOT a people pleaser, bashes whatever doesn't fit his radical thought process, looks down upon people who have commitment issues towards their training and all this at 27!
He did his first ADHM in 2012 - fat and unfit, he finished struggling through in 2:23. By 2013, he embarked on his own training plan and in ADHM 2013, he crossed the line in 1:25:01 improving by 58 minutes. He has stopped asking for sponsorships for his events because he is sick of reaching out with poor success! But I know, he is worth much more every penny that will be spent on him!
Brash, hard-working, honest, brutal, dedicated, moody, enthusiastic and a braveheart - here's an interview with Arunaabh!
Who is ARUNAABH? What do you do for a living and what makes you so passionate about sports?
I am a drudge with a passion for technology, sports, music, art and literature. I have a B.Tech in Electronics Engineering and have worked 4 years with McGraw Hill Financials where I balanced a 12 hour work+commute with my sports career.
I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland to pursue my Masters Degree in Sports Administration and Technology at AISTS in 2016 because I felt life is better with sports in it and wanted to make my life about sports. In July 2017, I started working as a sports intern with Fédération Internationale De Hockey.
Being a single child my mother put me every hobby class there was and so I can draw, paint, play the piano, play the guitar (I was in a heavy metal band in college), sing a bit (was classically trained for a while), click decent pictures, cook a 5 course Indian Meal and blog!
The thing I was really good as a child though was sports. I’ve played Table Tennis, Lawn Tennis, Track and Field Athletics, Gymnastics and being an Indian, Cricket. I learnt how to swim as a 12 year old because my mother didn’t want me to feel left out anywhere I went and I was pretty good at it. At 16 I could swim 56 secs for 100 freestyle and represented my state at National Level.
And then I made the choice to be an Engineer in 2008, which meant everything went south, sports wise. The worst habit I picked up in undergrad was eating junk food, though I never touched alcohol or smoking (still don’t do it and never will). By 2012, I was pretty sizeable and far from the swimmer I used to be in 2008. And then I got typhoid. I feel very sick, unable to get out of bed. Lying there, writhing in fever and drowned in medicines I thought what had become of my life.
So I decided to run the ADHM in 2012. Fat and unfit, I finished struggling through in 2:23. By 2013, I embarked on my own training plan and in ADHM 2013, I crossed the line in 1:25:01 improving by 58 minutes.
I owned a bike and could swim, so I thought of trying out for triathlons. In 2014, I did the Ironman 70.3 in Taiwan where I learnt how to ride with cleats on a bike during the race week and my 1st open-water swim was on Race day. Though I remember telling my father “This is easy” on the run. I finished in 5:33:32, 9th in my Age category.
In 2014, I also ran 1200 kms in 2 months and was one of the winners of the Nike Run Himalayas competition, which eventually got me a couple of ad-shoots with Nike and some sponsored gear.
ADHM 2014 was 1:20:16 and then SCMM 2015 was 2:56:24 where i finished 5th overall in amateurs.
I decided to push my body to see what it can do. So I signed up for an Ironman, in Mallorca. And I went totally unprepared for the hills and the conditions and I finished in 13 hours which was a disappointment for me. So to quell that I dreamt up an idea. But a certain celebrity got whiff of it and wanted to do it, which would mean all the credit would go to him.
Against all logic I decided to do 7 Half Ironmans in 7 days, one month after my Ironman. My body hadn’t really recovered for such an effort and the weather wasn’t ideal. I did finish taking 37 hours in 7 days to rack up the 791.7 kms and I am the only Indian to do it but it caused several problems. I had to pull out of ADHM in 2015 and SCMM 2016 . I had been accepted to participate in the Ultraman Australia in 2016, which made me the 1st Indian Male (and youngest, now that a handful of people have done it) to be invited.
But injuries plagued my preparation, I gained weight again and suffered from clinical depression during that phase. I started training in March 2016 for the longest race of my life in May 2016. Some major sponsors abandoned me and bike companies I wrote to didn’t even have the decency to write back. Only Garmin and Fast&Up stood by my side.
I somehow survived Ultraman Australia, which all cuts, bruises and weight finishing in 32 hours and 16 minutes becoming the 1st Indian Male to complete an Ultraman. Following my move to Lausanne, I did another Ironman recently in Zurich, finishing a much tougher course than IM Mallorca in 11:53:00, PBing by 1 hour and 8 minutes even though the race didn’t quite go to plan.
What are your goals?
My goals are to run very fast over 10k, 21k and 42k and do a very fast Olympic Distance Triathlon. Very fast by European standards and not Indian standards. (That’s how specific I want to be about my goals).
My goal is to put India on the map of sports where we are considered outsiders. My goal is to put the Indian flag right up there where it belongs and to show this world that Indians are much more than curry and corruption.
In a longer term goal, I want to educate myself in field of Sports Science and start my NGO where I can fund and train children from a young age in the right environment, education, nutrition and with the equipment so that we can produce Gold Medalists at a world level. I believe in self sufficiency and I prefer to do something about the problems I see rather than sitting and whining about them. I aim to leave the world a better place than what I came in. That’s what drives me.
How do you fund your sports events? They are super expensive. Have you got any support so far?
Well, mostly I fund them from my own pocket which explains my bank balance after working in quite a well paying job for 4 years. I did have some support in terms of gear from Nike initally but the then Brand Manager decided to use some abusive language against me which didn’t go down with my 24 year old ego and sense of “take no shit from others” mentality.
And then I did try out with Puma for a while but the products didn’t really suit me and when I tried with Adidas, i was told I didn’t have a “social media presence” (whatever that means).
So fun fact, I was hung out to dry nicely while I tried to attempt Ultraman. I wrote to pretty big bike companies like Giant, Scott and Merida but none of them even bothered replying. Maybe my social media presence had something to do with.
Years of achieving don’t really count till you can hashtag some bullshit unusable product on Facebook, because that’s what matters.
I still have the emails and messages and promises of products which never reached me, because now after seeing this, I believe spending money from my own pocket is better than taking obligations and be bought out for a pair of shoes and a T shirt. Atleast I can write what I want to about the products I use.
Fast and Up and Garmin supported me, helped me out as much as they could product wise and I never had complaints. They took time to talk to me and were really nice all through. And I some financial support from a kind soul, I would like to mention but he doesn’t want his name said out because that’s the greatness of that man.
What kind of support would you like for your sports? Anything particular?
Looking at the sponsorship model in Europe, it is very clear what a sponsorship model should look like. It should imply financial investment in travel and race registration more than shoes and shorts.
It should allow me to train in peace and run around without distractions rather than the sword of 75 social media posts an year hanging on my head.
Why should you be financially supported?
I honestly don’t believe I am at a level to make that call, but if I do get the support the I need, I can focus my energies into training and actually not worrying about how to pay for my next race.
With my plans plus the trials and tribulations I have been through in my life, I know one thing for sure, I am a hard headed man with lots of focus and if I am driven towards a goal, I will go and get it done.
I might fail and 1000 times but I will get it done.
Click here to Follow Arunaabh on his blog!