We all look into the magnificent human history to trace the heroic virtue of hundreds of iconic figures who lived before us. Seldom do we realize that an undying spirit and an unbreakable soul need not be an object of history – it can be a part of our present too! Today, living among us is a body confined to the mobility of a wheelchair, nurturing a soul that inspires and conquers the world like none. We are in an awe of this living legend – Anand Arnold, India’s only wheelchair bodybuilder. For those of you who think disability slams shut every opportunity for you, this young man has glorified India by bagging Gold at Mr. World 2017. For an esteemed personality like Anand who compelled revered writer Allen Woodman to pen down his life experiences for the world – we probably will never get the right words to praise him or bestow him with the deserved honor. All we can do is, salute him and his heroic achievements. Not saying anything more, we bring to you our conversation with our beloved “Indian Arnold”. In the below image please correct the year to Mr. World 2016
1) When and where were you born?
I was born in Punjab, Ludhiana in 1986. I have an elder brother and two sisters as well. We have been here all our lives and this is where I started my career as a professional bodybuilder.
2) You entered bodybuilding at a very young age. What made you do so?
My dad was into Air Force. My uncle had been a captain of the Indian Hockey team which bagged gold at Olympics. Even my grandfather was a national level sportsman. They all inspired me to do something that can bring me on the same platform as them.
My elder brother, he was a bodybuilder too. He held the title of Mr. Ludhiana 4 times. He used to go to the gym and I too began doing the same. I started working out at a tender age of 13 years and my body responded really well. Shortly, I participated in my first event and I secured the title of Mr. Golden Ludhiana at the age of 13. This marked the beginning of my journey. I was very happy that I was living my dream until the sad incident happened.
3) Even though bodybuilding was your dream and you were great while at it, you had to leave it owing to a tragic illness. Can you tell us more about it?After winning Golden Ludhiana, I could not continue with bodybuilding for long. There were students training under me, but I could not workout. There used to be a sharp pain in my lower back and in spite of repeated diagnosis, doctors were not able to pinpoint the cause. We did not have such advanced machinery then. One night, the pain got unbearable for me and my mother rushed me to the hospital. They did an MRI and it was then revealed that there was a tumor at the spinal end. I was in the last stage of cancer and doctor said that I won’t live for more than a week if not operated on. I was only 15 then.
They conducted the surgery that removed the tumor but it left me paralyzed. My body was left immobile below the neck. I could not move, could not do anything. My mother and sisters took care of me. They kept on boosting me with courage in my appalling state. However, the fact was that my life was a living hell. I was paralyzed neck down at the age of 15, not being able to eat, move or do anything on my own. I was like an infant, who is dependent for everything on his family. My bodybuilding career had become an impossible dream.
My mother was in a bad state. The doctor had told us before hand what the consequence of the surgery would be. We knew I would be left paralyzed after it. I convinced my mom to sign the papers for my surgery. I told her that, if I don’t undergo the surgery, I would die a painful death. Even if the surgery leaves me paralyzed, I would still be there in front of her. It was then that they signed the papers.
I stayed bedridden for three whole years while my mother and sisters looked after me tirelessly with love and care. If those three years were hell for me then they were hell for my mother and sisters too.
4) You achieved the impossible by resuming your career with a half-paralyzed body. What took you back to the gym?
I stayed bedridden for three years and gradually with care and medical aid, my upper body gained its movement. I was left with a paralyzed lower body i.e. I could not walk. My friends or rather my students who used to train under me would visit me and pursuad me to come to the gym. Most prominent of them all was Amit Gill. One day, he just took me to the gym on his two-wheeler. Since I could not walk, he carried me like a child in his arms to the gym.
When I entered the gym after three long painful years, a storm of emotions rushed through me. The familiarity of that environment, the energy, equipment; all my memories came to my mind. Since my upper body could move, I asked Amit to help with some exercise. I did shoulders and for the first time in three years, I felt so good. I felt lively again. My energy, my confidence was boosted. I asked Amit if he would bring me to the gym every day and he agreed with an even greater enthusiasm. He said he would love it if I start working out again.
I started working out every day and soon my shoulders, biceps regained their form. My body, once again responded very well to the exercises. I approached my coach Mr. Ravi Parashar He started coaching me and this is where I have come from there.
5) It takes an immense amount of courage and spirit to do what you did. Who kept you on the foot all the time?
I have said this time and again, that time was not just difficult for me. It was difficult for my family too. I would have not been here if my mother and sisters would not have been there. They have looked after me so selflessly. Right from my food to my hygiene, they were there, all the time. Not only this, they kept on motivating me to see the brighter side. Even when I decided to start bodybuilding again, they stood by me and did not underestimate owing to my disability.
My second motivator has been my coach Mr. Ravi Parashar. My workout routines are very limited as I can work on my upper body only and I cannot try most of the new things. So as a workout mentor, my needs are limited. Mr. Parashar has been my morale mentor. He boosts me with confidence and never lets me feel low about myself. Even when I was on the verge of giving up, he did not let me do it. Just talking to him makes me feel positive. He justifies that a Guru can indeed change a disciple’s life.
I would also like to thank my friend Amit Gill. He used to train under me when I was 13 and now when I am 29, he still trains with me. We have been together for around 16 years now. He is almost like my brother now. Another friend that has stood by me all the time is Ashwini. He too gave me all the positivity and confidence that he could.
A special credit goes to IMC – my sponsors. If they would have been not been there, I would have never reached the stage where I raised my flag and grabbed the title of Mr. World.
6) Can you please tell us about your association with IMC?
Actually, around 6 years back, I had given up on professional bodybuilding as I lacked funds. I used to compete at the nationals but an international event needs a lot of investment which I couldn’t afford. So I stopped thinking about international platforms until IMC came into the frame.
I was performing in Ludhiana at an event where I was a paid athlete. I did there what I did at India’s Got Talent. After my performance, Mr. Ashok Bhatia, Chairman of IMC came to the stage and praised me and said he would support me. I did not take him seriously at that time. It had happened in the past where a lot of people used to say that they would help me, promote me in front of an audience to gain some positive light and then used to disappear.
However, Mr. Ashok actually called me up. He was so happy with my performance, so impressed and motivated that he wanted me to go ahead. He asked me about my life, my hardships and decided to sponsor me. They funded me and this is how I managed to reach Europe for Mr. World. He has been very kind to me. I am and will always be grateful to Mr. Ashok Bhatia and IMC.
7) Other than IMC, has any other sponsor come forward for you?
Initially, it did not happen but slowly and gradually firms did start coming up. Today, I am the face of Muscle Mania. I am India’s first paid ambassador for Muscle Mania. I am also the brand ambassador for HaleLife Nutrition which is a fine range of supplements. Other than this, I have worked in movies too.
8) Yes, we have heard that a Bollywood director is going to make a biopic on you. Can you tell us about this?
Yes, it is true. A director has approached me and he wants to make a movie on my life with me as the lead actor in the movie. I have also been offered a role in another Bollywood movie. I am not the lead here but I have a good positive role. I will start shooting probably after December.
I have already worked in a Telugu movie called Supreme. The movie did really well, it earned 100 crores in a week. People like me in the movie and I am very happy about it.
I was also going to appear on the show OMG! Yeh Mera India hosted by Krishna on History Channel. However, I had to cancel the shoot as Mr. World was very close and I could not afford to lose on my training and diet.
I also participated in India’s Got Talent and did various stunts on the show. The judges gave me the title of Indian Superman. I am trying to use every possible platform to get in front of the people to tell them that nothing is impossible.
9) You seem much focused on your acting career, isn’t it?Well yes, I am focused to establish my acting career. The reason is that I want to do something different. If you look around, the recognition that our profession gets is that no matter what kind of an athlete you are – eventually you end up starting your own gym and becoming an instructor, that’s it. I don’t want that. I will start my own gym but only to give free fitness training to the disabled. I am working hard and the day I will gather enough finances or if someone comes forward to finance my dream, I will set up my gym.
Secondly, movies have a great reach. I want to reach as many people as I can, , show them that no disability can hold you down. If I am doing it from a wheelchair then you can do so too. I want to bring back hope in the lives of people who have shattered owing to such tragic illnesses and incidents and I am sure movies will help me to do so. To those who are physically fit, I want them to know that they should never underestimate or outcast a disabled person without giving them a fair chance to prove themselves.
10) Not just movies, a book has also been written and published in the US on you?
Yes, Allen Woodman wrote a book on my life called ‘Weightless: A True Story of Courage and Inspiration’. It has been published in the US already.
Allen Woodman actually met me and at that time I did not even know who he was. I had never read any of his books. We met, we talked and the meeting ended. After reaching the US, he called me up and told me that he was impressed and was in an awe of my life story and wished to write a book on it – my biography, and this is how it happened.
Now after I achieved all this, even the title of Mr. World, he called me up sounding baffled. He just could not believe that I was able to achieve and said that we would write another book on my achievements.
11) Like they say, every coin has two sides. You have got good experiences but there would be bad ones too. Would you like to share any of your experience with us?
You are right, it does happen. There are a lot of athletes who, after tasting success, turn arrogant, start throwing tantrums and attitude towards their fans and fellow competitors too.
When I had gone to Delhi for the selection of Mr. World, there were a lot of athletes. I won’t take the name but I was very disappointed and disheartened by the way a few of them behaved. It was around 3 am and we all had to return back after a busy day. We had a bus to commute. All the athletes had boarded the bus and I was coming, with my luggage, on my wheelchair. When I was in sight, they started the bus and began to leave without me. As the bus was passing by, an athlete peeped out and said “Anand aja.”
I was so disappointed. I mean, it was 3 am; I was in a wheelchair with my luggage. Their behavior was devoid of basic human etiquettes . I somehow managed to get on a cab. .
Such a behavior from fellow athletes was totally unexpected.
12) when you are amidst all this stardom, what keeps you humble?
It is my faith in my God that keeps down to earth. I consider myself as a good christen. When I was bedridden, I knew in my heart that God is telling me that he has a special plan for me. Hence, even while going through those hardships, I did not give up on my faith. God resides in my heart and I know everything that I have achieved is because of him. Then how can I be arrogant? Some people say that they have an attitude, for me, my attitude itself has turned humble.
13) Talking about success and fame; how was the moment when you were entitled as Indian Arnold at Mr. World?
It was the best moment of my life. Till date, I have won several times – Mr. India, Mr. Punjab, and Mr. Ludhiana. I have a total of 41 titles and medals till date. However, this is undoubtedly my most memorable victory. I actually won two gold medals there – my category and overall title. They addressed me as ‘Indian Arnold’ on an international platform that sees amazing talent from all across the globe. I felt really great. Raising my flag on that stage is an experience that I cannot share in words.
When I was selected to represent my nation at the event, I told the media that it is Diwali and I will give my country a gold medal as a gift. I told them with an assurance that I will come back with gold and I am so overwhelmed that it happened.
14) How did you prepare for the event?
I work out for 4 hours every day. As I said earlier as well, my routines are difficult as I have to focus on the upper body without burdening my lower body. Due to this, I can’t experiment much with the exercises and I have to work out for longer periods than a regular bodybuilder. If they can prepare in a month then it might take me 3 months to do that.
It took me full 6 months to prepare for Mr. World. I do exercises focusing on my chest, shoulders, collar, biceps, abdomen etc. My chest presses go up to 70 kgs. While lifting weights, I tie myself around the waist to the bench with a belt to get that balance.
My off season works and season workouts do not differ much actually. The routine remains the same, what changes is the diet.
15) What is your diet plan like?
My usual diet includes a lot of eggs, chicken, and mutton. I am actually not fond of vegetables however I do have salads to get healthy fibers. I have around 20 to 30 eggs in a day with good chunks of chicken and meat.
When I am preparing for an event, my diet gets low on carbs. I even stop having salt. Around 10 to 12 days before the event, I go low on water. I have minimal volume just to keep me going.
In addition, I also have my pre and post workout shakes. I am completely against steroids. I believe in being natural. Your natural body will take you long.
16) What is next on your list?
The next event for me is Mr. Universe that will take place in Thailand in the coming month. I am representing my nation again and I will try my best to get Gold again for my country.
I have put everything else on hold for the preparation. My first priority is Mr. Universe. I will not leave any stone unturned to prepare for it.
17) Would you like to say anything to our team IBB?
Indian Bodybuilding is doing a great job. You guys have followers not just here but also in other countries. I just hope that my message, my story reaches as many people as possible so people can overcome their disabilities and take life head on. I also wish that with your platform I am able to reach someone who can understand my dreams, the reason behind it and help me in setting up my gym. Thank you to your entire team.
This was our inspiring conversation with the Indian Arnold. Everything about him is worth admiring. When most of the people give up, Anand decided to battle life head on. He has achieved with a disabled body far more than what any of us can achieve with our so called ‘normal’ bodies. We sincerely hope that the next time we talk to him; he is not just the Mr. World, but the Mr. Universe. All the Best Anand – go get it!