Coffee with two of Pinkathon’s leading ambassadors Sharmila Munj and Sonia Kulkarni on fitness, running, family, kids and of course our collective heart throb, Milind Soman!
I have fond memories of Pinkathon 2014. All the girls in our running group had a great time. I still can’t stop smiling whenever those pictures with us in pink tops shows up on my Facebook page. Some of us took selfies with the Pinkathon ambassador and hunk Milind Soman.
Pinkathon isn’t just that one event I ran in. It is a flourishing movement of women runners sweeping across the country. My chat with Sharmila and Sonia revealed all that and more.
‘Big things come in small packages’, that’s Sharmila for you. A dynamo of a woman in a diminutive frame. She had just returned from a 15-day frenzied Goa Going Pink tour yet radiated immense energy.
Sharmila, still in her mid-40s, has an interesting story about her entry into running and Pinkathon. “I was working with Bluedart DHL in sales. I was the typical busy corporate employee with no interest in running or fitness. Sometime In 2013, I had a chance encounter with Milind Soman. At that time Milind had conceptualised Pinkathon and was looking for business development partners and potential sponsors.”
“Unlike most others, I wasn’t exactly awed by Milind’s celebrity status or good looks simply because I have been a long-time loyal Shahrukh Khan fan. Anyways, I found the Pinkathon concept captivating and took the plunge”.
Sharmila played a key role in getting State Bank of India as the title sponsor for Pinkathon. Around the same time she got involved in a Pune Running event. The event was a success and she met Raj Vadgama, a much celebrated long distance runner from Mumbai. She began training with him. Discipline, regularity and significant improvement in fitness levels followed.
Back at the office she convinced her boss at Bluedart to sponsor all the women employees for Pinkathon in December 2013. She says, “It was an easy decision for the boss because the positive impact running was making on my personality and work performance was distinctly evident”.
“I rose up the ladder in Pinkathon quite quickly. Milind appreciated and recognised my performance and I was formally designated as an Ambassador of Pinkathon”. Her role was now wider and she was required to reach out to people and spread the message of Pinkathon in numerous ways.
Sharmila is a steady runner and isn’t obsessed about timing or pace. “Joy for me comes from helping others succeed in achieving their goals. I derive utmost satisfaction from converting a non-runner into a regular runner”.
For Sharmila, Pinkathon is not just about running, “It is a revolution for women empowerment. It is about turning women into leaders so they take charge of their fitness and lifestyle. It is about making women aware so they can also take care of their family’s health”. She links the genesis of Pinkathon to Milind’s own childhood, “His mother – Usha Soman inspired him to take sports seriously. Usha Soman, now 74 years old continues to be an active runner and is recognised as one of the fittest women of her age in the country”.
Sharmila explains how Pinkathon affects women and in turn their families, “Pinkathon makes women aware of health choices and helps inculcate fitness regimes into their lifestyle. If a woman is aware, she tends to positively influence the entire family”. As the African proverb goes, if we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family.
Sharmila adds, Pinkathon has now spread into 9 cities across the country. Pinkathon editions in each one of them has been a roaring success. “The recent Goa Pinkathon had 1200 women runners whereas the biggest marathon in Goa before that had only attracted 1000 runners, men and women”.
Pinkathon isn’t just about an annual event in the city. There is a lot of engagement during the course of the year. “Ambassadors are identified from the local community. They organize regular events to engage with the runners on a continual basis. For example, training runs are organized to retain the momentum”.
But how does Sharmila juggle all this with family commitments? “My 11 year old daughter will always be top priority. She gets all my free time. While I am working for women empowerment, I cannot afford to disempower my daughter by not being there for her. I do my best to manage time between various assignments so there is minimal conflict. Plus I now have double the energy thanks to my own fitness regime!”
About her personal philosophy, she quotes Yoda – “Do or do not. There is no try”. This go-getter woman isn’t going to compromise or give up. She will keep running and take everyone else along with her.
At the dawn of every New Year, we all make resolutions with great aplomb. A few weeks into the year the inevitable happens. It all goes up in smoke. Sonia says, “In Jan 2013 I decided to play it differently. I asked my elder son Revaant, then a 9-year old, to come up with a resolution for me”. Revaant said ”Mom, I want you to become physically fit. Not just slim, but fit too”.
At that time she was blissfully unaware that it would lead to a new beginning in her life. She says, “I had to fulfil the resolution else risk losing Revaant’s respect. Not an option. Besides, I had to set the right example for him”.
She was working in a PR firm with a hectic work life. She began training and gradually improved her fitness levels. Her first big achievement was to run the 10k in Pinkathon. She mulls, “My training wasn’t perfect for a 10k but just being part of such a lively event was thoroughly enjoyable”.
A bigger role beckoned. She adds, “I took part in other events around Shivaji Park, Dadar and that is where I first met Milind Soman. He urged me to stay on course and continue the fitness journey. I duly obliged and went one step further by getting actively involved in organizing events”. Her magnetic personality attracted many people to her and she made many runner friends. After one of these events, she was invited to become a Pinkathon ambassador, and she readily agreed.
It was all win-win for Sonia, “I got involved on the event organization side which I thoroughly enjoy and also lost over 10 kg weight thanks to my running. I was running 21km half marathons. Running brought a sense of calm into my life”.
Sonia has this to say about Pinkathon, “It is a completely non-judgemental space where you get only encouragement. I represent a class of women who have never run before. I emphasise to people that one needs to first enjoy the run and not get obsessed over pace and timing. In my book, a regular runner gets full marks”.
There have been other benefits too, “In the course of my association with Pinkathon, I have met many inspiring people and they have broadened my horizons considerably. I have met cancer survivors, persons with disabilities, and various other inspirational people all of whom have left a lasting impression on me. They have made me humble and have given me new reasons to push myself daily”.
Needless to say, she has fulfilled Revaant’s resolution for her and gone much farther, “Running is now an integral part of me and I can find time to run every day, no matter what. In fact if I don’t run for a couple of days, I get withdrawal symptoms!”
She has brought so many women under the fold of Pinkathon and touched their lives.
With such wonderful ambassadors and the ever-charming “Zen Master” Milind Soman as the driving force behind it, Pinkathon can only be expected to spread faster and farther.
Glory to women’s fitness!
Reena Narula is a Mumbai-based fitness enthusiast and a regular contributor in Sportsjoy.
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