"Every Champion was once a contender that refused to give up" - Rocky Balboa
…...and in Eva Jyrwa, ultra-runner, cyclist and tri-athlete we can see that champion take form. She is a working professional and a mother too. That's a lot of check-boxes for a single person to tick-off, but yes, the champions live right among us, champions who challenge the status quo , who are unconventional, who dismantle and break man-made boundaries, glass-ceilings and prejudices. Champions who live among us and inspire.
Eva Jyrwa is 52 years old, she is currently making a splash in the world of triathlons, a sporting segment that is under-represented in India, and breaking several stereotypes at the same time. Married to an Air force officer at the age of 24 and a mother at 25, Eva Jyrwa during her growing years was a curious, precocious and a rebellious child. She describes herself as someone who was good at studies but never at sports but that has come to change and how. She lived and worked in several places around the country until she finally settled down in Ahmedabad, which she now calls home.
"Unconventional is me" says Jyrwa, and her life journey reads like a handbook for one. Late starter but a quick learner, she learnt to swim only at the age of 40, very unconventional that and started to run only at 50, make that doubly unconventional. She enjoys training solo, living solo and lately, traveling solo. For someone who loves the solitude of training within their own space, the triathlon is a natural progression and an ideal choice in sport. “Training is a long lonely journey for the men and women who choose to purse a Triathlon” says Eva and a triathlon being a three pronged discipline of swimming, cycling and running, makes it extremely time intensive, but enabling athletes enjoy it just as much. A triathlon might as well be a called a triple-unconventional in the case of Eva Jyrwa.
For someone who wasn't into sports, when asked about what the tipping point was to her journey into the world of sports, she says "I went to cheer a friend during the Sabarmati Marathon in January 2014 and was awed and inspired by the sight of people running, most of them barely the athletic type and I said to myself, if they can do it, why can't I??” Three months on, Eva summoned up the courage to run and found that it wasn’t easy. “I felt like dying after only one kilometer.” Thats when a friend (and now an international ultra runner) from Denmark gave her the best piece of running advice, after watching her run. “Run very slow, as slow as you can and relax. Do not be perturbed by people overtaking you…..” The next time she ran she did just that and found herself doing her first 5k and that was the beginning of her love affair with running.
It was also during this time that Eva was seeking answers from the universe to the many conflicts in her life and trying to find some sanity through it all. She found comfort and solace in running and hasn’t looked back since. But her journey on this path hasn’t been without a fair share of speed bumps. Things with running took a downward turn as she hit a series of injuries. “Getting injured is always tough, mentally more than physically. Watching your fellow athletes run and bike while you are in rehab, is a sob-story many athletes are familiar with. Coming back from injury takes a lot of effort and patience. Yet, some of the most profound lessons have come out of injury-time.” says Eva. Her running curve had been short and full of excitement with podium finishes but with the injuries that followed, she questioned her priorities and knew that if she intended to have a lifelong relationship with running then moderation was critical. This meant literally a slow walk back to recovery before she could start running again. Soon it was combined with cycling and swimming due to their low impact nature. She started cycling with an MTB and leisure riding but soon transitioned to a road bike and discovered the thrill of speed. So when asked about running vs. cycling she says, “In terms of endorphin rush and challenge, running pips cycling, for me. But when it comes to fun and freedom, nothing like cycling. Its the closest I come to feeling like a bird in flight…”
As she consistently trained, strengthened and recovered from her injuries, she ventured into duathlons and ITTs (individual time trial). Soon she found herself on the podium in multiple events - 7th in SugarFree Ahmedabad Cyclothon 2016, 5th at Impossible Race Polo 2016 & 2017 and 1st in Tour of Aravallis 2016. In December 2016, she completed the half ironman distance 70.3 Tri at the CTC Chennai event and finished 2nd in an open field. “But frankly, I do not care much for events, podiums or PBs.” she says. I train solo and only participate in very few events. Some may call me a maverick athlete but for me, the joy of the sport is why I play it. That is not going to change.” Her most memorable run was the 50k from Shillong to Cherrapunjee, that she did to celebrate her 50th birthday. There were no medals, no tees but wonderful memories for a lifetime. But more importantly it was reinforcement of faith in her own strength and endurance.
She is currently training for Ironman Barcelona, 2018, a location that boasts of history, culture and scenic beauty. “I will still continue to run and cycle as individual sports but the way ahead for me is triathlons. Full Ironman, Barcelona 2018 and Deccan Cliffhanger (RAAM Qualifier race) 2018, these will be the big ones. I also wish to explore mountaineering in the future. And as I progress as an athlete, I would also like to become more patient, more compassionate, more mindful human being. I would like to learn a new thing every day and continue to inspire and be inspired.” The Deccan Cliffhanger is a 643 Km (400 mile) ultra cycling race from Pune to Goa. And the solo racers who complete within the time limit qualify for the world’s tough bicycle race - Race Across America (RAAM). With these audacious goals, she is just unstoppable.
With these audacious goals, what is a typical day in Eva’s life? Her day starts at 4.30 AM and she out hitting the roads by 5.15. A two hour BRIC (bike/run workout) followed by a regular days work. And then she’s back to cross training and swimming in the evening for about an hour and a half. Thats a total workout of 3-3.5 hours a day. She’s thankfully blessed with a 9-5 day which is more mentally taxing than physically, doesn’t involve much travel and has reasonably regular hours. “I am training for full Ironman distance so besides regular running, cycling and swimming, I incorporate yoga, strength and circuit training. I am not a gym person so have to depend on body weight workouts, free weights, kettlebells, exercise ball and foam rolling. I also pay a lot of attention to proper sleep, recovery and nutrition. I believe in holistic healing and the power of Ayurveda. Since the past 2 years, even after upping training, I have never fallen sick. Touchwood.” With such long days, downtime for Eva pretty much involves hanging out with her Tri buddies. “Most of my friends are athletes and socializing involves running and training…Our workouts on Sundays are 4 hours long with 100-120 Kms cycling or a long run. Sunday is treat day with an extended lunch and thats pretty much as social as it gets.” She has been lucky to find a small set of like minded athletes in Ahmedabad who motivate and inspire each other. She names Ingit Anand and Anand Marar as Triatheletes (Ironman Langkawi) who have been the force in building this community of committed and dedicated bunch. Given the adverse Tri training conditions in city like Ahmedabad, they are truly blessed to have each other to support and lift each other up.
Being an athlete has given Eva the courage, focus and determination to overcome life's challenges and move ahead. Her proudest moment in all of this has been to be able to stand strong after she walked out of an abusive marriage two years ago with literally nothing and putting her life back together. Sports was the one single thing that kept her strong and positive. “I love what I have become today because I worked very hard for it. And I did not quit. At times when the going got tough, it held me and my sanity together. I discovered that I was a lot tougher and stronger than what I gave myself credit for. To me, cycling/running/triathlon is more than just sports. It is zen at times. Just the wind in your face, nature, road and the stillness - merely you and the moment. At other times, it is adrenaline coursing through your veins and your legs on fire. It is sharing laughter and a cuppa tea with fellow athletes, making friends with strangers, beautiful sights and smells, wonderful stories... I treasure all these, as much as the medals.” While her parents after initial concerns for her have come to accept their daughter as a Triathlete, Eva’s son is 100% supportive and proud of his mother’s achievements.
She believes that life transformations don’t come easy but focusing on the following are critical:
- Believe that if you really want to do something, you will make time for it. Otherwise, there is no dearth of excuses. We all have 24 hours in a day, no one has more. We all have commitments and responsibilities.
- There will be a lot of detractors, sometimes even family. Remember, a physically, emotionally and mentally healthy and happy woman is an asset to the whole family and society. It is an investment with very high returns on investment. Have faith in yourself and do your thing.
- Sports and fitness are not solutions to problem(s), they are a way of life. A healthier, richer life. Win-win.
We asked Eva to describe herself in a single word and “Spirited” came the reply. “I’ve taken knocks. Some of them very hard knocks. But I've always come up, again and again. Don't know why and how. Something in me doesn't allow me to stay down. There was this moment, during the Chennai tri, when I was desperately struggling on the swimming leg. Every fibre of my being was telling me to quit and end the misery. I cried and gasped but kept going. The way I see it, sports is like life. Fear, doubts, challenges....they are there for a reason. To challenge your limits. Just keep going. You will discover that you are more than what you imagined yourself to be. And in doing so, not only do you finish but you evolve into a stronger and better person.”
She encourages women to pursue whats dear to them. “A passion is about yourself, what you really want to chase because it makes you feel alive and good, so do not feel you're being selfish in chasing your dreams. And, passion is what gives meaning to our lives. It is what makes us strive to be the better versions of ourselves. Dare to dream and dare to chase it. You can.”
We salute you Eva for your spirit, strength and courage and with you the very best for Iron Barcelona and Deccan Cliffhanger. May the Tri-be of strong, confident and unconventional women grow!