When Reeni Tharakan hit the gym 10 years ago, at 53, it was driven by a desire to lose weight and stay healthy. The last thing on her mind was powerlifting, let alone winning gold medals at international powerlifting competitions. She won four gold medals in her category at the recently concluded International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Classic & Equipped Masters Powerlifting Championships at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Gymming was a new experience for Reeni who confesses to not having seen the inside of a gym until then: “I did not know what a dumbbell was or a kettlebell.” Once she began training, her trainer saw potential in her and egged her on to lift weights.
“My trainer, Jagan KG, encouraged me to lift weights right from the start. He saw my interest and understood my capability, and encouraged me to lift [weights],” says Reeni over the phone from Thycattusserry, near Cherthala. This achievement would not have been possible without her trainer’s support and that of her immediate family which includes her husband and two daughters, she confesses. Despite the backing of her family, the ride has been anything but smooth. “It is not approved of in traditional, conventional families. Questions include ‘why are you doing this at this age?’”
The IPF Championship had her compete with around 145 weightlifters from 44 countries. The Masters’ competition is held in four categories — M1, M2, M3, and M4 — for the age groups of 40 years and above, 50, 60, and 70 plus years old. Reeni participated in the M3 category. She is all praise for participants in the championships, “A Japanese man, in his 80s, walked in with a walking stick and ‘out-lifted’ the others. There were more women than men, which was an eyeopener about the number of women who powerlift,” says the homemaker. The fitness levels of participants have left her impressed. The Indian contingent had 25 members, of which around 15 were women.
Reeni travels three times a week to Kochi, travelling 37-odd kilometres one way, to work out at Mr Standard Gym at Vyttilla. “My husband drives me down, and this is one way of showing support.” She works out for close to two hours, the other three days she works out at home and takes one day off from training. Strict about maintaining her weight [at 69 kilograms for her category] she follows a keto diet, which she says works well for her.
“I keep my weight between 66-67 kilograms. When you compete in an international competition, being overweight by even something as seemingly insignificant as five grams can get you disqualified!” For an idea of how much she can lift — she deadlifted 112.5 kilograms.
She also won a medal at the Asian Women’s Equipped Powerlifting Championships held earlier this year at Alappuzha. She has won medals at district level competitions as well; she began competing in 2021. She credits Jagan and Jerry Lopez, owner of Mr Standard Gym for encouraging her and creating an atmosphere of support for her. “It is not easy for someone my age to do this. And the support I get when I train goes a long way.” Jagan credits her for getting more women interested in lifting weights.
Reeni is excited about her experience and her advice for others is — “Everybody should lift weights. It is critical… do it for your bones, body and general health.”