NE’s golden man of new-age sport

By Prasanta Phukon

Sandeep Sharma has become the first person from the North East to win a gold medal in kettlebell (a relatively new sport in India), at the Asian championship in Taipei this year.
Kettlebell is one of the toughest lifting sports and requires tremendous mental fortitude and physical conditioning. It is a combination of strength, endurance, mobility and technique.
Sharma, a resident of Thana Road Shillong, started training in kettlebells in 2018. His interest in crossfitters and UFC fighters using kettlebells led him to Guwahati where he met trainer Pulak Biswas. “I learned about the nuances of kettlebells from him,” said the 38-year-old champion.
Sharma soon realised that kettlebells can be fun as it is different from the usual workout. He bettered himself by working on his strength, cardio and endurance. In no time, he was lifting 20kg kettlebells with ease and it was then that he decided to go for the sport.
At the Asian championship, a participant was required to lift a 20-kg kettlebell for 10 minutes and he could switch hands only once with no rest in between the sets. “The only way to get any amount of rest is to keep the hand in the overhead position, which is also tough because the bell is heavy. So you have to keep swinging it from top to bottom. Similarly, in the jerk or the long cycle, an athlete uses two kettlebells instead of one and has to keep hitting the reps for 10 minutes and the person with the most repetitions wins,” explains Sharma, adding that preparing for the sport was an arduous work.
Sharma would work out for around three hours and by the end of the day, “I would be so tired that I would go home and just sleep”. There were days when he would skip training because he would be drained out of energy. The gold medalist says at times he would train for two days a week instead of three as “it takes more than 48 hours to recover from the fatigue”.
“But I could not afford to skip training and I remember doing it only twice. My brother looked after the business and this helped me focus,” he smiles.
Sharma’s family supported him in his endeavour. His diet was weakening him and he needed to change his food habit. His coach Parag Mhetre guided him throughout the two months of training and he realised that if there was any chance of him winning at an international event then he had to change his diet.
“I spoke to my wife and mother and explained them that I needed to switch to a protein-based diet (beans, nutrela, cottage cheese)since my family is vegetarian and we don’t cook non-vegetarian at home. My mother-in-law too supported me and she would often cook chicken and bring for me,” Sharma recollects.
The other problem that he faced as a kettlebell lifter was skin breakdown of the palm and fingers leading to blisters which took time to heal and he had to give a couple of days to heal. So taping at pressure pounds helped him minimise skin injuries and allowed uninterrupted training.
Sharma had always been into sports and won accolades in the past. He is a state-level gold medalist in swimming. He quit swimming after the pool where he practised closed down in 2014. For almost a year, he was out of sports and was losing his fitness. So he joined a gym and found out about kettlebells.
Sharma runs a business and kettlebell sport is not a full-time career for him. He admits that sports as a career is tough for sustenance as financial support rarely comes. He had to go to Taiwan on his own expenses though he was representing the country.
There are two more international competitions in Malaysia and the Philippines this year but Sharma says it is an expensive affair and he cannot afford it. But he is hopeful that “things will change if the government extends support”.
There are many international kettlebell competitors, including women. “Many female lifters completed around 200 reps with 24 kg kettlebell at world championship. In Taiwan, a lifter from Japan whom I met completed a marathon event in which a lifter had to lift two kettlebells for 30 minutes, he did the long cycle with two 20kg bells, which was a very difficult task to complete.”
Sharma believes that he still has room for improvement and acknowledges the help he got from several lifters in Taiwan who taught him new techniques. It has helped him improve in the sport. The best way to get better, says Sharma, is to keep practising and competing.
“At present, I am preparing for the North East championship in Guwahati and then for the nationals. If I perform well in the nationals I will aim for the world championship. It can be a game-changer for my sports career,” he says.
Talking about the July 27 event in Taiwan, Sharma gets emotional. “Every sportsperson wants to win gold for his country. It was a proud moment for me when I won the medal along with another player from India. When we were standing on the podium and the Indian national anthem was being played, I was ecstatic. I even got goose bumps. I held the national flag and it was an amazing experience that I will cherish for life,” says Sharma, who is also a kettlebell trainer at Pinewood gym.
The sportsman says not many people know about the benefits of kettlebell or how to train with it. He advises that one should begin with normal drills and swings, “which are simple and effective”, and one can notice the difference, both physical and mental, in a few weeks.
“A typical kettlebell workout can burn up to 20 calories a minute, which equates to 400 calories in a 20-minute workout. For people who want to get into kettlebell sport or just want to learn how to lift kettlebells can always contact me. In fact, we are already nurturing a team to compete at the regional level,” he informs.

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