5 accidents, 2 surgeries, metal roads in wrist and leg: Pragnya Mohan battles all odds to lead Indian team in its CWG triathlon debut

FOR NEARLY half a decade, Pragnya Mohan has risen before the sun to zoom freely on Ahmedabad’s ring road, beating the city’s infamous traffic. She spends six months abroad, in Australia and Spain, so that she can train in open water, among other things, something that is practically impossible in the polluted, crocodile-infested rivers of Gujarat and most of India. The 27-year-old has had five serious traffic accidents, during training or competition, had two surgeries and metal rods inserted into her wrist and leg.

On Friday, Day 1 of the mega event in Birmingham, the qualified Chartered Accountant will lead the Indian team making its triathlon debut at the commonwealth games. India has sent a four-man team – Adarsh ​​MS, Vishwanath Yadav and Sanjana Joshi being the other three – to Birmingham in a sport that includes swimming, cycling and running in one race and where the country has virtually no history.

However, the focus will be on Pragnya, who is also the National and South Asian Champion, as the only Indian to compete in a Triathlon World Cup. “We knew she had what it takes to make a career in the sport,” says Pragnya’s father Pratap. However, no one could have imagined that it would become a triathlon.

At first they thought it could be swimming, a sport Pragnya started at the age of eight. “She was good, but never won a medal; the best she finished in the (age-group) nationals was fourth,” says Prateek, her older brother. “At the same time, we had mini-marathons at school. She could easily win that by beating girls twice her age.”

Cycling was more out of compulsion than by choice. The swimming pool where Pragnya trained was 10 km from her home. Initially, Pratap dropped and picked her up daily. But after being forced to move from town due to professional commitments, Pragnya and Prateek decided to cycle to the pool and back. “Every day she cycled 20 km,” says Prateek.

For years, all three sports were watched separately, but that changed in 2013, when she won a 50km cycling race “without much practice” and earned Rs 1 lakh as prize money. “She loved swimming and was good at running; after that match, we realized that she was also a good cyclist,” said Prateek, who is part of the organizing team for the Chess Olympiad to be held in Chennai. Pratap, now retired, adds: “We knew what triathlon was because there were a few people from Gujarat who had tried it. So we thought, why not combine the three disciplines and give it a shot?”

However, there was a problem: there were no good triathlon coaches. Pragnya continued to train individually for all three sports, under different coaches. “But they all tried to pull her in their direction, because she was good at each of them. They had no idea how to balance the three rungs. So I had to take charge,” said Pratap, 61, who decided to coach his daughter.

A decade ago, he says, there was limited reference material online — written and video. So he turned to “The Triathlete’s Training Bible”, a book by US-based Joe Friel, “the father in terms of scientific work on triathlon”.

While Pratap, a graduate of IIT and IIM, learned triathlon techniques and tried them on his daughter (“I experimented with her and sometimes it wasn’t successful,” he laughs), Pragnya was pursuing her CA degree, which she graduated in 2017. But instead From an accounting life, she decided to switch to triathlon full-time.

It wasn’t so obvious. “We were faced with two major problems: the sport is relatively unknown in India and therefore resources are limited, be it the roads to cycle on or a place to swim,” said Prateek, 29. “The biggest challenge is cycling. The only way to cycle on our roads is to get up before dark and finish the whole session before 7am, when the traffic kicks in. For top speeds, it is impossible to cycle on the road. So she gets up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. every day and leaves before 5 a.m. to train,” he says.

Pratap talks about the other major hurdle: inaccessibility to Olympic-size pools and open water, as swimming races in triathlons are held in open water. “Not only Ahmedabad, but all over Gujarat most of the lakes and rivers are infested with crocodiles; it’s because of a conservation project that’s going on in the state,” Pratap says. “People do swim in it, but you have to take a lot of precautions, which is practically not always possible. The Sabarmati River, on the other hand, has water for about a month a year.”

So for an open water race, Pragnya trains in a 25m pool, which isn’t ideal. “In the pool you take a bend every 50 or 25 meters, as in the case of Pragnya. So you get a push in the corner and that makes you faster. We noticed that for every 100 meters, the timing in the pool is 3-4 seconds faster than in open water, which is significant,” says Pratap.

Therefore, Pragnya spent six months a year in Australia or Spain for the past four years, investing the prize money she earned running marathons across the country, as well as the stipend she earned during her CA article ships, apart from the support from her family.

Self-funded, coached by her father and navigating her way into the demanding world of triathlon without much support from the federation or government, Pragnya has set personal best times of around 11 minutes of swimming (750m), 32 minutes on the bikes ( 20 km) and a 19-minute walk from 5 km.

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These times are in the sprint triathlon which is half the Olympic distance putting her in 24th place on the starting list for Friday’s race where she will compete against some of the best triathletes from Bermuda, England, Australia, Scotland, Canada and New Zealand, countries with a rich history in sports.

“This is an important stepping stone,” Pratap says. “Our ultimate goal is the Olympics. We have just under two years to tie the knot.”

Pragnya is ranked 372 in the world – the best among Indians – but her timing, Prateek and Pratap say, is closer to being near the top 100. To qualify for the Olympics, she must be around the are in the top 70. seems like a dream too far at the moment, but Pratap is quietly optimistic.

“We’re doing our best,” he says. “The rest, we’ll see.”

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