Born in Hyderabad and married at the age of 18, Arathi Arun’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary. Her husband, Dr. A V Arun encouraged and supported her to pursue dentistry in Chennai. Her family has been a source of constant support and her journey is proof of that.
Arathi Arun balanced her work and family life with utmost grace, but after the birth of her second child, she felt like she wanted to do something just for herself. She joined the gym to lose the postpartum weight but ended up getting inspired to power-lift. In a sport that’s heavily dominated by men, she defied all odds and proved all the naysayers wrong when she bagged not one but 5 gold medals at the Asian Powerlifting and Benchpress Championship.
“When I joined the gym to lose weight, I came across people who were lifting really heavy weights. I was amazed because they didn’t have muscles like bodybuilders but had the strength to carry the heavy load. They can lift 200 kg. I asked someone there if I could do it, and they shut me off saying, No, you are a married woman with kids. It’s not for women, it’s a tough sport and mostly for men.”
That’s when a spark lit in her and she was determined to prove them wrong. “ The rod doesn’t know whether it’s a man lifting it or a woman. It’s going to treat me equally. That’s how I stepped into this male-dominated sport, powerlifting. So, the mindset was that you need to be bulky or have muscles like the bodybuilders to be able to lift. When I realised that’s not the case and it’s all about the technique.
A lot of people asked her the typical question, “ Are you trying to be a man? To which she replied, “ I wanted to be gracious and confident, definitely wanted to break the stereotype that women can’t do it.”
“I joined the gym 2 years after the delivery to reduce weight and initially my focus was on weight reduction. I dropped 25 kgs during 2 and half years. After I reached my goal, I started seeking out more.”
She’s been powerlifting for 10 years now. Giving your whole self to something is tough but when you are passionate about something, you find your way. But with challenges along the way, “ When I began, I used to allot my afternoons for training and practising. All this after years of not prioritising myself, I would do anything for my family. But slowly I started making time for it without letting my time with my kids get affected.”
She started by taking part in the district-level Championships, “ Initially, when you go, you don’t win gold. But when I started winning medals, I realised that I do have the potential. I can do it if I put in more hard work. After 4 years of training and hard work, I started winning medals at the national level.” She’s won 4 gold medals at the national level, 5 national records in her name. She was selected to represent our country at the Asian Powerlifting Championship that was held in Hong Kong in 2019. There were 9 men and 9 women selected and she was the only one from Tamil Nadu.
“The competition was very tough in Hong Kong, there were participants from Kazakhstan, Iran, and Iraq. I won a gold there. I was even awarded the Best Powerlifter award making it a first for someone from Tamil Nadu.”
“It was a goosebump moment. When you see a national flag being raised above all flags and our national anthem being played, it feels like your hard work, dedication and sacrifice were worth it. My family also sacrificed equally and without them, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
In 2022, adversity struck when a harrowing accident left her with a fractured humerus bone, caused by a 170 kg bar falling on her arm. The incident didn’t just leave her physically hurt but she also dealt with depression. “I was depressed, I was on anti-depressants for almost a month. The incident happened 20 days before a competition. I would cry every day, then my daughter came to me and said, Why are you doing this to yourself? I responded by saying that I was getting older and had also fractured my hand, so I wouldn’t be able to lift anymore. She said Age is a number not to see how old or young you are, it’s only to see how close you’re moving towards the end. You still have enough time to pursue your dreams.”
That moved her and there was an instant energy boost for her. This helped her bounce back. The accident happened in May and after doing physiotherapy for 4-5 months, she took part in a championship in December. It was a miracle and to get back in less than a year was a testament to her spirit.
In a sport that’s dominated by men, she carved a name for herself, but her journey wasn’t easy. “There is no equality, equal opportunities are not given. I’m trying my best as an individual, but the change has to come from the community and the people, association and government.
Even today, so many parents call me, when I tell them that their daughter has so much potential, they say that they are going to prioritise their education because that’s how they will find a good groom. I believe in girls being independent, so education is important. But girls should also find something to do for their happiness.”
A piece of advice for the girls and women out there is, “Just focus on what you want and be consistent. Sometimes when you start something, you do reach a point where you don’t want to continue. There will be highs and lows, but if you can get past that with determination strong willpower, and that never-give-up attitude, you will be able to achieve anything in life. “