An exclusive interview with Asian Games Gold medalist, PT Usha, covering her career and fitness in children.
By Anusha Vincent
It is 6 am. Bangalore is even more beautiful at this time of the day. The air is crisp, cool and magical - like something out of a Ruskin Bond story. The sun, still in his bedclothes of rusty orange, looks divine. I am standing in the KTPO Grounds in Bangalore, waiting for the Get Fit for Kids (GFK) marathon - a first-of-its-kind initiative to encourage both parents and children to get fit. By 6.30 am, the ground resonates with the trademark sound that comes with having children around. Parents and kids are gearing up to complete the run together. As for me, I raced the sun to waking up this fine morning to meet a childhood idol of mine - the golden girl of Indian sports.
“I started running when I was 13 years old. I am 50 now and I still jog every morning. I can get very moody without this morning ritual,” says the legendary runner. Even coming from a regular parent, I’d have been in awe. But it is a certain PT Usha I am talking to right now and I am in raptures. I manage, somehow, to get a grip and ask her a few questions.
Q: How would you compare the fitness levels of children today with those from previous generations?
Children these days are weaker, less muscular and unable to complete physical tasks that previous generations found simple. This is probably due to the fact that food today is not as nutrient-rich as before. Also, there is reduced participation in activities like rope-climbing and tree-climbing. Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now, fear stops children from even climbing in the first place.
Q: How can fitness be made fun for kids?
Children learn the most from their parents. So, one of the best ways
to help kids get fit is to get the family together and organise games such as running, basketball, volleyball or football.
Q: What steps can parents take to encourage generation junk to eat healthy?
First, make your children aware of what they are eating and look for ways to make their favourite dishes healthier. Reduce the consumption of calorie-rich temptations. Another part of balancing calorie-intake is to engage in an appropriate amount of physical activity. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Q: Does your own son have a personal fitness trainer in you?
You know, I did not have formal training as a kid. I was the second of six children, and all I wanted to do was run. I believe a healthy body reflects a healthy mind. I tell my son that if he is fit, he can take up any challenge, mentally as well as academically. I share my knowledge with him and give him tips on jogging and running. Added to that, I’ve drilled into him the importance of not being dependent on shoes, shorts, good grounds or company when it comes to exercise. All you need is inner determination.
Q: Can physical fitness improve academic performance?
Yes of course, in so many ways! There are many lessons to be learnt. For example, if you jog for the first time, you start gasping and this is the first symptom of pain. The more you gasp, the better your pain-bearing mechanism. Your body will rise to the challenge and equip you with the stamina to survive the situation. You build resilience, which will hold you in good stead in other life situations too.
Q: At ParentCircle, we’re huge fans of the Payyoli Express! Growing up, who were your idols?
Well, when I started off, I hadn’t heard of anyone but Milkha Singh. That’s the only name I remember from those days.
Q: How does it feel to be here? Could you tell me a little about your association with the GFK initiative?
Did you know that in urban India almost 99 percent of children are not physically fit? I believe that if you aren’t physically fit, you are unfit for leading a good life - not just during childhood, but well into adulthood. So, awareness on nutrition and fitness needs to be spread among children as well as their parents. That’s why I am here for this very special initiative.
Q: What does PT Usha do in her leisure?
I love watching movies, but I need to be in the right mood even for that. I am always so busy that when I have free time, my favourite thing to do is clean the house and cook some good food!
Q: Oh! What’s your best dish?
(Exchanges a giggle with her husband) I’d say my fish curry is quite tasty!
Q: What’s your message for the big community of parents and children?
In my time, there was no sports awareness. I still managed to achieve a lot in my life. Children these days have all the facilities. I just want them to identify their strong points and work hard on them. And parents, pull your children away from the computer and TV and send them outdoors to play! You will then see a remarkable change in every aspect of their lives.
On that note, as if on cue, she is whisked away by a gaggle of tiny tots who are all but clambering over her for a selfie. While I walk away, I savour the sweetness of having taken part in a conversation of a lifetime!
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