Triathlete Pragnya Mohan believes in the maxim: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Pragnya will shortly be a part of history on Friday in Sutton Park as India has its first tryst with triathlon at the Commonwealth Games. Pragnya, also the first from India to participate in the Triathlon World Cup in 2019, spoke to Sportstar about her career, setbacks, future of the sport and more.
Let’s talk a bit about your family... Your brother, too, has a connection with sports...
I have my parents and an elder brother. My brother, currently, is in Mahabalipuram as part of the organising committee of the 44th Chess Olympiad.
What attracted you to triathlon?
I was a national swimmer growing up and then I took to running very early on in my teenage years, post school I got into competitive cycling.
I started running triathlons in 2013. In January that year, there were three consecutive weekends when there was swimming, cycling, and running competitions as part of a pre-election cultural festival in Gujarat. I won all three. In the cycling event, I won ₹1 lakh and realised I am good at all three. I started triathlon more like a fitness venture, but I am a very competitive person, and decided to participate at the State and National level.
In triathlon, you have to dabble in three different disciplines – swimming, cycling and sprinting... It must be very difficult?
It is. But it’s more fun. If you are doing just one sport, it can get boring. It’s a cross-train in itself. One morning I’ll be cycling, the other morning I’ll be running, the next swimming. Otherwise, if I was only a swimmer, every morning I would be only swimming. I like endurance activities. So, I found my calling here.
Tell us a bit about your coaches?
My father Pratap Mohan was my first coach. There were very limited coaches in India, so my father studied about the sport and started working with me. I have had coaches in Australia and Spain. In Spain, I trained with Eva Ledesma. In Australia, I had Sean Foster as my coach.
Who do you look up to?
Gwen Jorgensen, a triathlete. She was the 2016 Rio Olympic champion and also the world champion in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
We share a lot of similarities. She is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) in the U.S., and I am a chartered accountant in India. She worked in a company called Ernst and Young and I interned in the same company. Both of us are also very competitive on the field.
Have you met her yet?
No, I’ve never met her. After the 2016 Olympics, she had a baby and switched to long-distance running. I’ve chatted with her online though.
How would you sum up your performances this season?
Yeah, so in 2022, we have had three selection trials for the Commonwealth Games. I came first in all three. At the South Asian Championship in Nepal in April, I defended my title. I’ve not done a lot of other races during this season, but I am looking forward to doing some world-level races after the Games.
How can the federation and government come together to boost the popularity of the sport?
Triathlon is a very new sport, so government or private support is very limited. Foreign exposure trips are costly. However, I think, with a lot of people taking up the sport, and good performances at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games will translate into a better future for the sport in India.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Strength…I have been in the sport for almost nine years now, so I know the ins and outs of it. I know how to compete at the international scenario. Though the Commonwealth (Games) is going to be my biggest platform yet, I have never had the nerves and anxiety that people have before any competition.
And weaknesses… In May, I got had typhoid and I have been on the recovery since then. I hope it does not play a negative role during the Games. There also have been some injuries that I have had in the recent past and I hope they don’t resurface.
What kind of injuries?
Some injuries due to overtraining and some that have happened in the past. I have a recurring ankle issue. It sometimes pains while running, so I use taping.
I have met with quite a few accidents too. My first major cycling accident happened in 2015 in Ahmedabad. I was on my training ride and an SUV suddenly stopped in front of me. I was riding at 30-32 kmph speed. Braking immediately was not possible, and I crashed into the car. I called my dad to the accident location. I was bleeding from a few places.
Later, I realised that I had lost my memory. I don’t really remember anything, and it took a lot of time to recover. I didn’t touch my cycle for two-and-half months. Then I broke my thumb in an accident in Melbourne.
In Spain, in 2019, I had yet another accident and got a plate placed inside my wrist. Two months after that, I became the national champion.
It does take a mental toll as well...
For the first week, you feel very depressed. But having a support group in your parents and friends helps. And having a history of accidents also helps. You get used to it (laughs).
How did the preparation go for CWG?
We had three weeks of camp in Pune with the Army coach. They have a Sports Selection Board. Then we had a two-week camp in Chennai.
What’s your target for the Games?
So, in the individual event, finishing top ten would be the target, and in the mixed relay we are aiming for a top-five finish.
Thoughts about Paris 2024...
The Olympic selection cycle has already started. There’s a period of two years from May 27 this year. I have to participate in select races - the World Cups, World Championship and Asian championships. There are 55 slots and I think 2024 is within reach.