When we think about fitness, we involuntarily think about men and women immaculate in physique and mind, demi-gods with wash board abs, out of reach to so many of us who can only stare in awe, those of us that are in the middle or perhaps even on the trailing edge of the bell curve so to speak. But then there’s disruption. From the middle of the bell curve emerges an individual who embodies all the virtues of the athlete on the leading edge: the same commitment, passion and discipline. Here’s someone whom we can relate to, but also someone we are inspired by. This is the story of one such individual. This is the story of Anju Kadam, best introduced in her own words.
“I say this often, when people say tell me your story - I haven’t run a marathon. I haven’t run a marathon in every country. I don’t have the perfect body. I am not a poster girl for fitness. I am not. A lot of times people who are athletes or are fitness aficionados wonder why I am speaking on fitness. But that’s my point. Being ordinary and fit, can co-exist, in fact it must.”
Anju strongly believes that women must invest in their fitness. She posts constantly about her own fitness routine on social media to inspire as many women as she can. Many women start their day reading her posts. “Even if one person is inspired by it I am to going to keep it going.” says Anju. “We must promote a culture of not looking down on our friends who cannot do as much as others, because they are in different states of fitness. You have to lift people up with you. I would like to be able to do that with my ordinary story.” Her strong desire to make health and fitness an integral part of her life but more importantly her drive to inspire and bring others along on her journey is what makes her story extraordinary.
“We must promote a culture of not looking down on our friends who cannot do as much as others, because they are in different states of fitness. You have to lift people up with you. I would like to be able to do that with my ordinary story.”
Anju’s story is not that of an athlete who has embraced fitness at the exclusion of all else. To the contrary, it is the story of a woman who juggles several roles - her role as a mother of two children, a wife, founder director for webtv.in (a media production company), her fitness persona, an influencer and champion of women’s fitness as Pinkathon ambassador, a Sheroes mentor and the 100 saree pact initiative which she co-founded. It’s the story of a woman who’s passionate about each of these roles, and swaps them with ease, feeding them and balancing them with an infinite source of energy. Seeing her draped in a beautiful off-white saree with a large vermillion bindi on her forehead makes it hard to imagine her as a runner, killing WODs (Workout of the Day). But here she is - the multi-faceted woman of today adding new dimensions and bolstering existing dimensions each day.
Early days, wedlock and motherhood:
Anju Kadam grew up in Mumbai. The zeal of the city that never sleeps shines through her. Thinking back to her school and college days, she observes that limited infrastructure and a lack of sporting platforms meant no real focus on physical fitness. “There were very few avenues at that point, well even now, there is an opportunity cost to everything and most of all a lack of space and time to support sports. Colleges don’t provide that platform as there is no premium on fitness or sport. The emphasis is on career, making money and a lack of realization that you can give more to life when you are fit". Soon, her professional life sucked her in deeper. While the intense learning brought satisfaction, the long hours fueled by chai and samosas saw her gaining weight, losing friends to the busy schedule and entering the most unfit phase of her life.
Wedlock and motherhood saw Anju oscillating from fit to unfit and back again. In the pursuit to 'get fit' for her wedding day, Anju went into a ridiculous crash diet. While the results came quick, the gains soon disappeared and the weight came back just as quickly. Flirting with obesity in her 30s while on the brink of a late pregnancy, she made a conscious decision to lose weight primarily through yoga and clean eating. Moving to the US during this time helped her embrace her cause completely. “Depending on what life offers one shifts to different kinds of fitness routines and I am extremely adaptable to that. Exercise is my sanity meter.” She took up aqua aerobics, yoga and pre-natal gym programs and proudly proclaims she was perhaps the fittest pregnant woman on the block. It's the nature of Anju's fitness journey that makes her one of us and not the elite poster material that the world obsesses with. Dropping off the fitness wagon for a while and then coming back just as strong and committed to it - it’s this nature that we can all relate to and what makes Anju's story so true and inspiring.
“Depending on what life offers one shifts to different kinds of fitness routines and I am extremely adaptable to that. Exercise is my sanity meter.”
From being the fittest ever around her first pregnancy, she slipped back into a passive lifestyle around her second pregnancy, Anju says "After my first pregnancy which went smoothly, and the second one in about 2-3 years, while I was not clinically depressed, I suffered from very low self-esteem.” The decision to focus on her kids meant slipping further away from an active life - her sabbatical from fitness would last seven years! As the 40s rolled in, it was time to reclaim her fitness. In the 40s, the battle is harder, the metabolism sluggish. Though not impossible, the game changes and the climb gets harder, but being her paragon best, Anju climbs it and the effort is worth it.
Positivity, motivation & the power of attraction:
As we sip on our tender coconut water, she regales me with tales of her struggles with weight, her views on women’s fitness and her upcoming goal - Fit at 50. Slowly, Anju’s inner engineering comes to the forefront - she’s not a believer of fate, destiny or coincidences but she does believe that attracting the right people into your life can shape your life and fuel it. Recently she donned the cap of Pink ambassador, becoming an influencer and women's fitness champion for Pinkathon, India's largest women's run.
She's not only associated herself with fitness initiatives, but has also started a fitness movement in her closest realm of influence - her home. She is proud that she got her husband to start moving and he is today a walker and an avid cyclist. “I have an extremely supportive man, but he’s not sporty. We have been married for 22 years and I think I have managed to change him in the last maybe 10-14 years. He is thin and thin people don’t think they need to exercise.” she says laughing. “I see the change in our family. Because I chase fitness the way I do, I have children who chase fitness now.”
I ask her where she draws her inspiration. How does someone break through the dreaded plateau of inertia where things can slowly grind to a halt? Without toe-holds and ropes of motivation to hoist themselves up, no one can reach the summit. Anju’s motivation comes mostly from those near and dear to her - her family, her children and in a big way her mother who practices yoga each morning at 83 despite battling arthritis.
Anju would like nothing more than to pass on the legacy of fitness to her children, the same legacy she received from her mother. “As a mother, as much as I would like to see my kids successful, whatever that measure of success is for them; I would really like to pass on a legacy. A legacy to pursue a passion for fitness. My greatest joy is to see my son kill a WOD at CrossFit or my daughter enjoy dancing or swimming.” And when your children are your biggest cheerleaders, that’s just icing on the cake!
Setting new goals - Fit at 50:
To add vigour to her evolving fitness journey, she decided to take on a new challenge and this came in the form of signing up for the Oxfam 100km walk challenge in January 2015. Anju says “On my 40th birthday I decided that I would do one new thing every year. I learnt how to DJ among other things, but I also taught myself to run.” She laughs at the sudden image of Phoebe (character from Friends) that pops up in her mind, running clumsily in Central Park. “I have never looked at myself while running, but I think that’s how I run”, she jokes.
She has had to train herself without much support. “Now we have so many running groups but it wasn’t there when I was younger. I started with a 5 K goal, progressed to 8 K and crawled over the 10 K finish line. But I didn’t find my mojo in running. I have a bit of a bad knee and it would keep coming in the way. I stuck with it for a year and then I told myself I will do other things. So I did.” Anju decided to take up long distance walking. She set her BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to walk 100 K. While walking isn’t as strenuous as running, the target distance was serious stuff. And finish she did - in 25 walking hours.”
Yet, the fitness challenges never ceased. The onset of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol & blood pressure, despite medication and diet, continued to plague her. Anju's fitness which was at its peak in January 2015 at the time of Oxfam 100km walk went spiraling away to its lowest in a decade by November 2016. But she was determined to reclaim her body and life. She embraced a combination of workouts, not to lose weight but to get strong. RPM, Zumba, Yoga, CrossFit, Kettlebell and it was a year of transformation. She shed pounds, but more importantly she got strong - physically and mentally. Supported by able coaches who closely supported her transition, she went from strength to strength.
It's remarkable how intense Anju’s commitment to a life of fitness and health is. She has her own interpretation to the words that have been worn thin in standard textbook definitions.
Fit: Getting around your day in a manner that is pleasurable and with minimum pain.
Healthy: Whatever your condition might be, move the needle from bad to better; better to best.
Happy: Finding a sense of balance and stability.
Asked about her mantra she says “I think the goal is to keep moving forward. So I have arrived at my mantra for life - Be fit, healthy and happy.” We concur, it's simple in philosophy and in practice.
Her message to women who struggle to find time, repeatedly slip and try to rise again is simple - “Carve out twenty minutes a day. If there’s no time to go to the gym, walk for 2-3 kms. Get up every hour and move for 5 mins. If you are on social media, the phone or watching television, before you know it, an hour has been consumed”, she says. She urges women to switch off and move. “Us women are conditioned to not make ourselves priority in life. We need to change that.”
“Us women are conditioned to not make ourselves priority in life. We need to change that.”
A narrative on Anju’s life would not be complete without a mention of the 100 saree pact. In 2015, Anju and a friend started a pact to wear sarees a hundred times through the year and tell their saree stories - a celebration of our past, our heritage, our memories and our connections through the 6 yards of fabric. This became a catalyst for many more women across the world to join and started a saree revolution that is still going strong today. This sudden, spontaneous and organic journey is soon to be memorialised in a book she is writing.
As we draw to a close, we can't help but notice the impact Anju has had in every path she's walked, she's one amongst us, in the middle of the bell, but she's the one doing the ringing, beckoning her kind and tracing new trails and stories in the fitness world. We too gather to the tolling and join her in her journey and wish her all the best in her Fit@50 journey.