This year during the January KTCC in Pune, it was my pleasure to have been able to teach kettlebell training to the captain of the Indian Rugby team, Surabhi Date. My first impression of Surabhi was that she is tough! And I was right, she took the two days of hard work without showing too much of discomfort. However, what impressed me more was how keen a student she is and her continuous interest in wanting to know the finer points of kettlebell lifting in greater detail.
So without further delay, lets get to know this hard working athlete better:
ArnavSarkar (AS): Hi Surabhi, first of all I would like to thank you for taking the time out to do this interview. Could you begin by telling us a bit more about yourself and how you got started in Rugby?
Surabhi Date (SD): My pleasure sir! I am honoured to do this, thank you so much. Since childhood, I was always intrigued with the science of sport and nutrition. While other kids were busy studying math and literature, I was busy reading health and nutrition magazines and biographies of sportsmen. That same interest has now turned into my passion and my profession. I started off with playing lawn tennis at first, then a bit of athletics, then football and finally rugby. Lawn tennis was my first love. I used to dream of winning grand slams and Maria Sharapova has been my favourite since then.
I joined Khare’s Football and Rugby Academy (Kfandra) to learn football with an intention of reaping the benefits of cross training, thinking it would help me perform in lawn tennis. I didn’t know there’s a game called rugby and I didn’t know people play rugby at Kfandra (I did not know the full form of Kfandra then haha). They used to play rugby in the monsoons and I randomly started playing this game. I was quite clueless initially because rugby is a very complicated game and a novice would definitely find it really hard to understand what is happening. But eventually I got the hang of it.
Then came my first game day, and my first run with the ball and my first ever tackle. I was actually picked up off the ground and rammed down mercilessly by one of the players. That one tackle blew me off completely. But it gave me a very strong kick, a high. I knew this opening tackle was going to make me come back for more and it so did. That one tackle made sure I get hooked on to this game and never fall out of it. I had a black n blue bum after the tackle but I absolutely loved it. Sounds like I’m some sadistic person, but you gotta experience it to understand what I feel, or rather any rugger would feel. It’s crazy, rugby is crazy.
AS: Considering the typical Indian mindset towards women in sports, did you face any objection from family or friends when you decided to play a brutal sport like Rugby?
SD: Firstly, let’s not call rugby brutal ha ha. It’s like any other sport/contact sport. Evidence actually suggests that rugby is safer than many other popular sports worldwide. Rugby has innumerous rules to it to make sure it is played in a safe and disciplined environment.
Anyway, family was very supportive, always. But I did go through a phase where they were against me playing this sport because I was getting injured too often. I had some major injuries like ACL reconstructions in both knees, ankle ligament tear, tibial stress fractures, osteitis pubis, right hamstring tear, lumbar ligament strains, severe hip flexor strain- to name a few. All these injuries would obviously get connected to rugby, and hence everyone started blaming the sport. But the surprising fact here is that – ALL of the above mentioned injuries happened due to incorrect training. ALL of them!
In 2013 I got my right knee operated and that really tested my family’s patience and they seriously wanted me to stop playing. And I don’t blame them for it, I’m clumsy I know. But the stubborn me never wanted to stop and I continued playing. But I never regret it because had I stopped, I would never have been able to reach where I am today. I am now in New Zealand getting a formal qualification in sport and exercise and playing rugby with the world’s best players. And I can’t thank my family enough for their support, even when I went against their concern.
AS: What were the first few sessions of practice like? Did you feel that you had made the right choice and would do well, or did you question yourself and felt that this was probably not the best sport to have chosen? Also, could you describe the feeling you got when you played your first ever match?
SD: Talking about the choice, I was in a dilemma when I had to make a decision between lawn tennis and rugby. I could not continue with both. What made me choose rugby, which was then just a hobby over lawn tennis which was then my passion, was I guess the camaraderie that I experienced in the team. The girls and boys in the team were really fun and motivating too. Never did I experience such kind of pushing and backing during all sorts of training on field. Not only this but all of them were very helpful and friendly even off the field. The team had a very strong bond and I instantly identified myself to them. This is what rugby is all about. You become one family with an incredible camaraderie that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, no other sport. And also the Khares (Surhud and Swapneel Khare – Head coaches of Kfandra) had a huge influence in holding this solidarity and maintaining discipline. Both of them are amazing coaches and amazing persons.
I remember Surhud sir telling me that I have the temperament to play a team sport and not an individual one. I then made up my mind to let go off my passion and get into this game. It was intuition in part, my coaches’ influence, and of course my wonderful teammates who are now my friends for life. I did regret letting go off tennis initially, but now I don’t. I believe everything happens for a reason and I had to leave tennis for a reason. I was meant to be at Kfandra. Kfandra has shaped me into what I am today and I am very grateful to it.
AS: How did it feel to become the captain of the Indian women’s Rugby team?
SD: Honestly speaking, I was extremely nervous. I was a kid back then. I was just 19. I had never led a team before, not even my class row in school. And suddenly, I was the captain of the Indian rugby team, not only for some mediocre tournament, but directly the Asian Games. I was suddenly all over the news and had journalists interviewing me and taking pictures and what not. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I was anxious and overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to handle the pressure and unfortunately ended up performing badly. ‘’You’ll get used to it’’, they said. ‘’You will lead by example’’, they said.
At that time these things didn’t really make sense to me. But now when I think of it, becoming captain forced me to grow up and take responsibility. I now feel quite accomplished as captain. I’m now well used to all the pressures and I’m probably the most calm and chilled out person during a tourney, whether it be on or off the field. That keeps my players sane as well. Leading by example now makes all sense.
AS: How did you begin in strength and conditioning training? Were you into gymming before you played Rugby, or did you begin only after you started to play to be able to improve your sports performance?
SD: I twisted my knee with a sidestep during my debut international match in 2009. Damaged my ACL, meniscus and cartilage, got it operated. It was post op that I got into gymming. But at that time I was just following whatever exercises were prescribed to me by my physio. I once bumped into Nikhil Patil (personal trainer and nutrionist) at the gym. Nikhil being a sports enthusiast himself started giving me advice and helping me out with my workouts and diet. His friendly nature, knowledge, and love for sport made me really fond of him and eventually made me fall in love with weights. That was another turning point in my life after Kfandra. Nikhil then suggested me to do the K11 personal trainer’s course. I did it and then got into serious gymming from there. But then I wanted to learn more. I later completed the sports nutrition course and then the special population course as well.
AS: How has your training progressed over the years?
SD: Well, initially it was just a lot of functional strength training with a lot of weights thrice a week for long durations at the gym. Gym was like my second home. I used to spend 2-3 hours everyday working out at the gym. Along with that I had rugby training thrice a week in the mornings.
I now restrict my gym workouts to just 45-55 min thrice or 4 times a week, and focus on compound exercises – squat, deadlift, bench press, and Olympic lifts – cleans and split jerks. I do add a couple of other non-compound movements that are essential. But the major work is done by the former movements. I have always been following the push pull routine and I love it.
AS: What is your typical weekly training program like now?
SD: Monday – Quads and glutes
Tuesday – Calf hammy
Wednesday – Back
Thursday – Abs
Friday – Chest
Saturday - Shoulders
AS: What are your current best numbers in the gym, and which are your proudest moments in the sport?
SD: Umm, squats 1 RM – 245 LBS
Deadlifts 1 RM – 275 LBS
Bench press 1RM – 150 LBS
Proudest moment was just earlier this year in February when we played the National Games in Kerala. I got injured in the semis and could not play the finals. It was a tough game to win but what made me proud was the fact that the girls fought till the last minute of the game. Absolutely loved to see that fighting spirit and that never give up attitude in my girls.
SD: Biggest challenges were obviously all of my injuries. They have taken up a lot of my time and effort and energy and happiness and I have missed out on big opportunities because of them.
But I am grateful to be surrounded by some really good people who make sure I stay on track no matter what. Apart from that, the love for the game is always there to make sure I don’t lose focus and keep bouncing back stronger every time.
Injuries taught me a lesson though. They break you but make you as well. And the latter part is decided by your will. My will made me overcome all my obstacles.
AS: What are some of the mistakes you have made, and which you advise others not to make?
SD: Firstly, I always tend to increase my training intensity and not increase my recovery time. You need to stop being so harsh on your body and learn to listen to what it tells you. Listening to your body is a skill and it ain’t gonna come overnight. It needs practice and careful observation.
Secondly, I tend to not increase my food intake when I increase intensity. This is the worst thing you could ever do to yourself. By food intake I mean protein and fat – a lot of it. If you’re not able to meet your daily requirements then you might as well reduce your workout intensity.
Thirdly, a lot of stretching and massage – deep tissue is the best option but if not then foam rollers and cricket, golf or lacrosse balls are the best. The more consistent you are with stretching and massage, the better will be your performance. Tight muscles is a huge pain and the more you get lazy to stretch and roll, the tighter they get and the more difficult to release them. Tight muscles are easy to get torn or get spasms and strains. Plus they create compressive forces on your joints as well. I am currently facing the consequences of not following these rules religiously and trying to get out of these nibbles is such a struggle!
AS: What about nutrition? What type of a nutrition plan do you follow?
SD: I love the no carb diet – ketosis. So basically you just have a hell lot of protein and a hell lot of fat. It is quite difficult to follow this one, since everyone loves carbs! My favourite is red velvet cupcakes and cheesecakes and everything chocolate haha. You need a really strong commitment to follow this diet. I actually followed this diet even during my in season this year and it actually gave me really amazing results. I felt fitter, faster and stronger on field. Plus I was looking leaner as well.
AS: How did you get interested in kettlebell training?
SD: Siddharth (Sarpotdar) sir insisted on me learning kettlebells because of the many benefits it would have on my performance. Hence I attended the Fitter Strength Level 1 course and now am absolutely in love with kettlebells. Maybe I’ll think of training at a competitive level for it in the future. Can’t thank him enough for this.
AS: How do you incorporate kettlebell training into your current training program, and which are your favorite kettlebell exercises?
SD: I just got out of an elbow injury – dislocation and fracture, so not really using kettlebells all out. So at the moment I am just playing around with a few bells with my non injured arm, doing a lot of swings. I am waiting to recover soon and start with cycles and Turkish get ups. Once I recover I will incorporate a lot of kettlebell training in my workouts because of the many advantages it gives. It will help me build endurance and power and these are the key requirements for any sport. And kettlebell training is a lot fun, so your performance on field actually increases while you're thoroughly enjoying your workouts too.
SD: I do not have a concrete plan as yet since there are way too many options in front of me. I am just focusing on building up my base of knowledge and experience and just following where my heart goes. At the moment my heart says research. I may get into some sports related research next year. Or else just play professional rugby for some time more. Whatever it is, it is definitely in the fitness industry. My ultimate aim is to develop the rugby sport and fitness in India.
AS: Who are some of your biggest influences in sports and outside?
SD: My family, my coaches, my K11 family, my close friends and my rugby team.
AS: Any final thoughts?
SD: Well, my journey so far has been quite a struggle but this struggle has made me what I am today and I am very happy. Yes I have been injured way too often, even on the field. Many people show dislike towards rugby and wonder why I play this game. I tell them that I have chosen this. Like any other game, even this game has its rewards and penalties, and you can’t keep getting only rewards or only penalties every time. You gotta accept everything and keep moving forward no matter what. Like Rocky Balboa says, that’s how winning is done!