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No open sea, no roads: Team India defies the obstacles to complete its first triathlon

Pragnya

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No open sea, no roads: Team India defies the obstacles to complete its first triathlon

Pragnya, the only Indian to participate in a triathlon World Cup, is the national and South Asian champion. Pragnya’s father Pratap adds, “We felt she might be a star.” Nobody guessed triathlon.

Pragnya Mohan has risen before dawn for over a half-decade to beat Ahmedabad’s traffic. She spends six months in Australia and Spain to practise in open waters, something that’s impossible in Gujarat and most of India’s dirty, crocodile-infested rivers. The 27-year-old has had five serious incidents while training or competing, two surgeries, and metal rods in her wrist and leg.

The chartered accountant will spearhead India’s triathlon debut at the Commonwealth Games on Friday. Adarsh M S, Vishwanath Yadav, and Sanjana Joshi are India’s four representatives in a sport that combines swimming, cycling, and running.

Pragnya, the only Indian to participate in a triathlon World Cup, is the national and South Asian champion. Pragnya’s father Pratap adds, “We felt she might be a star.” Nobody guessed triathlon.

They originally believed it was swimming, a sport Pragnya began at age 8. Prateek, her older brother, claims she was excellent but never won a medal; she placed fourth at (age-group) nationals. We used to have school mini-marathons. She could defeat females twice her age.”

They originally believed it was swimming, a sport Pragnya began at age 8. Prateek, her older brother, claims she was excellent but never won a medal; she placed fourth at (age-group) nationals. We used to have school mini-marathons. She could defeat females twice her age.”

In 2013, she won a 50 km bike event “without much practise” and won Rs 1 lakh. After that race, we realised she was brilliant at cycling, too, recalls Prateek, a member of the Chennai Chess Olympiad’s organising committee. Pratap, now retired, says, “We knew what triathlon was since several Gujaratis had attempted it.”

Triathlon coaches were few. Pragnya trained for all three sports under separate instructors. Since she was excellent at each, they all wanted her. The three sports were unbalanced. Pratap, 61, chose to tutor his daughter.

In 2000, there was little textual and video internet reference information, he explains. So, he read “The Triathlete’s Training Bible” by Joe Friel, “the daddy of triathlon science.”

Pratap, an IIT and IIM graduate, learned triathlon skills and tried them on his daughter. Instead of becoming an accountant, she chose triathlon.

Not easy. The activity is very uncommon in India, thus resources are limited, such as cycling routes and swimming pools, explains Prateek, 29. “Cycling is tough.” On our roads, cycling is only possible before dark and before 7 am, when traffic starts. On roads, elite speeds are unattainable. So she gets up at 4-4.30 am and trains before 5 am,” he explains.

Pratap mentions the lack of Olympic-size swimming facilities and open waterways, where triathlon swimming contests are place. Most lakes and rivers in Gujarat are plagued with crocodiles due to a conservation scheme, says Pratap. People swim in it, but it requires several precautions that aren’t usually practicable. The Sabarmati River has water one month a year.

Pragnya trains in a 25-meter pool for an open-water event, which isn’t ideal. “Pragnya takes a turn every 50m or 25m in the pool. The turn push makes you quicker. The pool is 3-4 seconds quicker per 100m than open water, adds Pratap.

Pragnya has spent six months a year in Australia or Spain for the past four years, investing the prize money she won running marathons around the nation and the stipend she received during her CA articleships.

Self-funded and coached by her father, Pragnya has achieved personal bests of 11 minutes in swimming (750m), 32 minutes on the cycle (20km), and 19 minutes in 5km run.

These times are in the sprint triathlon, which is half the Olympic distance. She is 24th on the starting list for Friday’s event, when she will face elite triathletes from Bermuda, England, Australia, Scotland, Canada, and New Zealand.

Pratap calls it a milestone. “The Olympics are our goal.” We have fewer than two years.

Pragnya is rated 372 in the world, best among Indians, although her times are around the top 100. She must be in the top 70 to make the Olympics. Pratap is cautiously hopeful.

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