For Shivani Agarwalla, checking the boxes has not come the easy way. Pursuing kettlebell sport by passion, chartered accountancy by profession and gumming family together has certainly been a difficult drill, which she has managed to balance with assiduity and tenacity. Fresh off winning a double gold at the 29th IGSF World Championship in Greece, and becoming the first Indian woman to achieve a Master of Sport (MS) rank in kettlebell sport, Shivani chatted with The Telegraph on what made her gravitate towards the sport, how conviction helps her walk the extra mile, and how life in its new dimensions shaped up in an attempt to lose postpartum weight.
How does it to feel, on such an achievement?
It feels great. To be able to hold the national flag, when the national anthem is sung, standing at the podium, getting the gold always gets you high. But what was more special was achieving the coveted MS ranking in my lift. This was my fourth championship, and with the overwhelming amount of love I have received, it only inspires to keep working and start preparing for the next championship.
How were you introduced to the sport?
Honestly, it all started with the idea of losing my postpartum weight. My son’s seven now, and my husband is also someone who has been inclined towards fitness. He suggested me to join the gym to lose the extra pounds. Completely uninitiated, I walked into the gym and chanced upon the kettlebells. I started lifting them, with the sole idea of losing weight under the aegis of my coach and mentor Arnab Sarkar. I had initially called it quits owing to professional and familial commitments, but the journey restarted when my coach agreed to come home and train me. This gradually transcended into a place where I wanted to pursue kettlebell sport out of sheer passion.
Was the experience in Greece at the World Championship this year different from the previous editions?
It was certainly different in few ways. Firstly, my husband’s work keeps him away from the city, and thus leaving behind one’s child is always a sinking feeling, especially with the other parent travelling as well. But I held on strongly to the belief that the outcome should be worth the journey and the time. Secondly, we are used to lifting always at the fag end of the year with the weather being cold, be it France last year or Uzbekistan the year before. This time, in Athens, it was nice and breezy, but warm at the same time. We also had to lift outdoors, by the beach, which was something we had not done before. At the end of it all, besides the gold, receiving my MS made the edition a tad more special.
What does your schedule look like? How do you strike the balance?
For me, just like a car moves on four wheels, so do our lives. The four wheels being professional, personal, family and social. I realised only on lifting bells, this is what my personal life encompasses. I have managed to balance it with the familial wheel as well, owing to which I have been invited by numerous institutions to deliver talks on parenting. My professional life would be my career in chartered accountancy where I’m proud to have excelled in my field with the effort and rigour that I have put in. I’m still working on the social wheel, as the three don’t leave a lot of space for this. But, it is in enjoying the sport that I have realised how it has instilled in me a sense of joy, purpose and glory, of being recognised as an athlete. I have always tried to schedule my priorities more than prioritising my schedule. Kettlebell sport has to do with a lot of mental conditioning and strategy, along with physical conditioning. I train four times a week, along with outdoor circuit training twice, which my coach decides for me. Coming back home after work, is dedicated family time for me. My husband has been a rock-solid support for me in my journey, helping me keeping my aspirations and desire to explore, afloat. Trying to strike a balance among the four acts has helped me sort my priorities accordingly.
Do you think kettlebell sport will be introduced in mainstream multisport events soon?
I think it will still take some time for that to materialise. The sport was immensely popular in the erstwhile USSR, and also in other East European countries where the athletes are paid to represent their countries. In India, it still doesn’t have a lot of base and traction like other mainstream sports.
What makes the sport special is its versatility. Thirty-five to 40 happens to be the performative limitation for most of the mainstream sports, but in kettlebell sport, across any age bracket, any gender, the sport can be pursued. When it comes to the sport, I have been able to achieve a number of feats, and in this sport, 20 years down the line, I’ll still have targets to chase.
In our country, there’s a lack of infrastructure, coordination between the athletes and the various torchbearers of the sport, and most importantly, a federation. If people start seeing eye to eye and there’s an established federation, there is no reason we cannot take the sport to a different level.
What are your further ambitions and vision when it comes to the sport?
I consider the ‘snatch’ to be the mother of lifts. I am yet to receive my CMI ranking in that lift. Once I do that, I would like to migrate to a higher bell of 24kg where I would like to become the first female athlete to be snatching a 24kg bell on any world platform. My immediate goal would be to be the first female athlete in India to secure an MSIC ranking. From there on, I would like to explore and see where that takes me eventually.
The determination to bring India on the world map when it comes to the sport coupled with a desire to be able to inspire aspirational women athletes out there, drives me as a person. It is very important to break past the stereotypes and imposed limitations. I can be 40, a woman, a mother, equally successful in my professional field, and still be able to lift.