“Age is really only a number and it’s not an obstacle to achieve any goals or follow your passion, especially for women,” says Shelly Arora, Program Manager (VP) – Digital Services & MarTech Consulting at eClerx.
She has walked the talk. Following this ideology, Arora, a marketing professional with over 17 years of experience, has won accolades representing India at the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA) Olympia stage. She is the first Indian female athlete to have represented India at Olympia. From having a corporate job with tight work schedules, to fighting an auto-immune disorder and fighting the taboos surrounding the bodybuilding sport, Arora’s journey wasn’t an easy one.
As a child, Arora was completely focused on her studies and extracurricular activities like sports never enticed her.
“We were a generation who were given the options of becoming either an engineer or a doctor. Studies and careers were given prime importance to. Soon after finishing MBA, I got a job at Agrani Switch in 2002 and my entire focus was on my career growth. Later, I was fortunate to work with companies like Sony Ericsson, Times Internet, HomeShop18, Samsung and Aircel in various roles. While donning senior roles in a corporate environment, we tend to take our health for granted especially when you are young and career focused,” says Arora.
Once while on the move as she often was at Aircel, she experienced pain in her shoulders and body while running agt the airport with her laptop bag. Doctors advised her to discontinue her then lifestyle. She joined a cross fit centre and intense workout sessions followed for two to three months. But the shift from her daily routine and habits wouldn’t last for long. She was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder way back in 2004.
“Despite the fact that I needed to take care of my health, I used to have all the junk foods without much exercise and was ignoring my health. One lesson I’ve learned during that period was, one needs to be dedicated and must acknowledge the benefits that maintaining fitness and health bring into our lives,” she adds.
In 2013, Arora decided to unleash the entrepreneur in her and launched an event management company in New Delhi.
“I ignored my health further and the intake of food from restaurants increased. There was a Fitness First centre near to my regular hangout place. One day I decided to join the fitness centre and that was a life-changing decision. I started taking baby steps in the world of fitness. It was very difficult during the initial days but I took it as a challenge. Later, I hired a coach for lifting weights. This time, I was consistent and dedicated with my training sessions and started seeing results. For the next two to three years I did rigorous training; I consider that as the period which laid the foundation for my bodybuilding career,” explains Arora.
From Delhi to Bangalore
In 2016, Arora moved to Bangalore as Global Head – Digital Marketing and Customer Acquisition at Lyca Digital. She continued her training sessions in the garden city.
“In 2017, I had a relapse of the auto-immune disorder and doctors directed me not to lift weights. They said that I won’t be able to continue with the rigorous training sessions. That was one of the difficult phases in my life. I stopped going to the gym and it led me to a depressed phase. My mother shifted with me to Bangalore and encouraged me to rejoin the gym. After six or seven months I started training again, but it wasn’t as easy as before with my health conditions. Again I started taking baby steps and by 2018 I was kind of back to my normal self. Even during that time, doctors were asking me not to do that, but I decided to listen to my body,” she reveals.
In 2019, the International Natural Bodybuilding Association decided to conduct the Asia-Pacific championship in Bangalore.
“Normally, the competition used to be conducted in Korea, but that year they decided to host it in Bangalore. Things were in my favour. My mother and friends encouraged me to participate in the competition. I wasn’t confident and wearing a certain attire to go on the stage was one of my concerns as a corporate employee. I took it as a challenge and started working for the championship. I balanced my job and training sessions. Being in a senior role, I need to ensure that all the projects are getting delivered on time. Everything fell in place. I competed in the Physique and Bikini categories. Again because of my job I had inhibitions in wearing a bikini, but decided to go for it. During the competition, I met several professional bodybuilders and my respect and passion for the profession increased manifold,” she recalls.
Arora won the Asia-Pacific championship in the Physique category (women) and stood fifth in the Bikini category.
She started preparing for the Natural Olympia to be held in Las Vegas under Australian coach Ken Ross. She was the first Indian female athlete to have represented India at the INBA Olympia stage. Arora won a Bronze medal in the Sports Model category. She was among the top five in a Bikini Diva Amateur category and in the top 10 in the Pro Bikini Diva category.
“I was happy and excited about my achievements, but had my sceptical thoughts of what my colleagues and others will think about me. I posted about my achievement on LinkedIn and I was elated to see the response; the post was well received. I kept getting messages from my classmates on how proud they are about me and happy that I was following my passion,” notes Arora.
Recalling one of the challenges during the competition, she says, “To participate in Olympia, I have to travel to the USA. I had to take two weeks off for that, plan all the deliverables. The campaigns that had to go live had to be planned in advance, so that work won’t suffer because of me. My colleagues gave me immense support in the process.”
She also had concerns about what they would think about her participation in the competitions, especially the attire. The welcome she received after winning told her that her concerns were misplaced.
Arora is a certified personal trainer, certified nutritionist, and certified transformationalist from the International Sports Sciences Association. She is unable to pursue those passions because of her tight work schedule.
“I have been getting enquiries on training and nutrition. Owing to time constraints, I haven’t been able to pursue the same. But, soon I will start something which will help people in their fitness journey. Maybe not on a larger scale,” Arora says.
The lady regards her mother Gurjeet Kaur as her biggest inspiration. Kaur is a retired educationist who is also a yoga enthusiast. While the daughter may have inherited some of the fitness genes, she has worked overtime to earn her place on the world bodybuilding stage.