Entrepreneur India - QnA With Rehan Poncha
How did your journey begin?
I began swimming when I was seven years old. My immunity was low, and I’d often get I bronchitis or a cough and cold. The doctor advised my parents to take me to the pool and learn how to swim as it strengthens the lungs. I was always competitive, and soon after I started, I wanted to race and win. That’s how my journey began.
What advice would you give to aspiring swimmers?
As a coach and mentor, I see several young athletes who are very talented and get initial results very quickly. But when results don’t come in that speed, they get very disappointed and they stop. My advice to them is to stay patient and persevere. A lot of growth comes from your losses. Learn the ability to lose and learn from that loss so that you can bounce back again stronger than ever before.
What more do you plan to do?
I’ve always had big dreams. For two decades, I dreamt of being good enough to represent my country at the Olympics. I worked very hard and was very fortunate to be able to have that dream come true. A year after I retired from professional swimming, I tried my hand at Golf and fell in love with the game. I’ve been training for a few years for this new sport and have started winning at club tournaments and am playing qualifiers. It’s difficult because I started at the age of 27 and am competing with boys who started at the age of 7! But I’ve never shied away from a challenge and am enjoying the process!
What’s your routine like?
As a swimmer, at my peak I’d swim 16 km a day starting at 5 am in the morning and do 2 hours of gym training later in the evening. Now, I practice golf for 6 hours every day focusing on my game and technique and put in roughly 2 hours at the gym for fitness. In addition to this, because I got so much from swimming, I do want to give back to the sport. Through my academy Swimsmart with Rehan Poncha, I offer one on one mentorship sessions to many younger swimmers across India who are competing at elite levels. Sport teaches you so many life lessons, such as the importance of discipline and sacrifice in pursuit of excellence and I have found that these learnings have great resonance for corporate audiences. So, I often do motivational talks for corporate audiences such as CII, Reliance Brands etc. and also with schools and colleges sharing these and hopefully inspiring listeners to dream big and chase those dreams with practical steps and the right attitude for success. These have been very well received.
What’s your fitness mantra?
What’s in your mind when you are inside the pool?
During a race, there is very little time to think. You just work off muscle memory and habit from practice. This is why I encourage students to set good habits in practice, because what you do every day, is what you will do in your race. So, getting your process right is key. After the race, there’s a lot to think about ofcourse, mostly analyzing what went well, and what I could improve even more!
How does it feel to be an achiever of Arjuna Award and more at a very young age and what are your upcoming plans and goals?
It’s a huge moment of pride and I get goosebumps reliving the moment – from driving to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to receiving the award from the President. Every athlete grows up wanting to be at the Olympics and representing the flag. Only a handful have managed to meet the qualifying times in swimming. To be recognized by the country for your outstanding contribution to sport is a validation of years of hard work and it’s very humbling too.
What was a defining moment in your athletic history?
I was twelve years old at a national swim meet, the biggest one in the country. The year before I had won all golds at this meet. This time I had only made it to one event - the relay. As I sat there and watched event after event go by, I was overcome with humiliation and with it, the burning desire to rise to the top again. With every race I watched, I saw the hard work, one pointed focus, consistent commitment, sacrifices and discipline that would be needed to truly excel. That day, I made that commitment to myself, one that I reiterated many times over at different points in my life and that made me a six time national champion, won me two National Games Best Athlete trophies from the then Prime Ministers of India, Mr. Vajpayee in 2002 and with Mr. Manmohan Singh in 2007 and finally led to my qualification for the Olympics, and winning the Arjuna Award in 2010. Being faithful to your goal is sometimes easy and sometimes tough, but it’s always worth it.
How do you handle failure?
I handle it badly at first. Once my tantrums are over, and I feel I have had enough of my drama act, then I assess the reasons for failure and try to learn from my mistakes and improve on those from the next day I practice. Failure can teach you an amazing amount and improve your performance tremendously, only if you are willing to learn.
From swimming to golf that must have been an interesting journey. Tell us about the transition
It’s hard because starting at the bottom of a sport in Golf after being at the top in swimming. But I love the sport and find it extremely exciting. That keeps me going. The challenges that I face every day in the sport inspire me to be better.
Tell us about your travel blog
I blog on TravelWithRehan with my travel buddy, Gitika Taraporewala. Travel is a passion, and for the longest time, my travel was centered around sport, countries I visited to compete or train in. Today travel is often for pleasure or to play golf. I travel to destinations I want to explore. I love beaches so destinations like the Maldives, Bali and the Turkish Riviera have made our list. Iconic cities of Europe and Asia and golf courses in the Middle East along with delicious world cuisine have captured our interest too as have many leading hotels. I enjoy blogging with Gitika because she is a fabulous writer and finds the perfect expression for our experiences.
What are few tips you would give to solo travelers?
a) Halve your luggage and double your money! Seriously, pack a light bag and carry extra cash. Pack clothes you can style in various ways and repeat as well.
b) If you’re not short on time, unplanned trips add spontaneity and an element of fabulous adventure to your trip. Take local advice on what to do, where to eat, what to see. Don’t stick to the tried and tested, experiment!
c) Don’t let your fitness slide on a holiday. Go for a morning run – it’s a great way to sightsee and stay fit. Eat nutritious meals as much as possible and don’t fill up on empty calories.
How has life changed for you?
Most of my swimming career happened through my years as a student. So, I did little more than swim or study. Now I can do a lot more. I travel a lot for work, leisure and golf. I have done a bit of television anchoring. I do many corporate talks, and late nights are no longer off limits. It's a big change from my swimming days.
Talking about money and financials, how do you handle it and where do you make the investments?
I have somebody who advises me on investments. But the message I give to youngsters always is to not think about earning money. Work passionately and build skill, the money will inevitably follow.
Do you have an entrepreneurial side?
A part of me is certainly an entrepreneur who wants to do more and discover as much as I can. Work is usually corporate talks, endorsements and appearances or hosting shows and collaborations on my blog and social media.
Do you think we still don’t value any sports other than cricket!
I think there is a growing appreciation for sport in general in the country, but we have a long way to build a perfect sporting culture in the country. Cricket has certainly got it right, and other sports can take a leaf out of that book to grow their own following.
Tell us about your advice to people on staying fit through the festive season:
I personally am passionate about fitness and want to inspire as many people as possible to follow a healthier lifestyle. Which is why I’m happy about being at Phoenix Marketcity, Kurla today to motivate people to stay fit and healthy through the festive season.
To answer your question, I’d say focus on nutrition, workout and rest. The festive season is filled with late night celebrations and heavy fried or sweet foods. Find balance, so you can get in a healthy snack like a salad before you go to a party so you’re less tempted by fried snacks, and when you make the calendar entry for your late night party, also take time to reschedule your workout the next day, so that it’s not forgotten.
A thing you really want to own? A Patek Philippe Watch
Your philosophy in life? Consistency is everything
Positivity Mantra? You’ve done it before, you can do it again.
Favourite actor? Al Pacino
The craziest thing you have done? Paragliding in Bali despite being afraid of heights
If not, a sportsman what would you be? Actor
One book you are reading? Jonathan Livingston Seagull
If you could recreate something, it would be? Qualifying for the Olympics
If you had a million bucks to spend in a day, what would you do? A watch and a sports car
Who is your inspiration and role model? Rory Mcilroy
One thing you would like to correct about yourself? I am too hard on myself
One learning hack you swear by? Perseverance
The biggest moment in life? Qualifying for Olympics
What's the most stupid advice you have ever got? Quit swimming
Your fav watches? 2016 Omega Speedmaster which was specially designed for the Olympics
One app you are obsessed with? Instagram
One gadget you love? My phone
Brands I swear by? Speedo
Favourite holiday Destination? The Maldives
Hobby? Watch collector, traveler
My workout regime? Once a day, 4 times a week
Comfort Food? Butter Chicken
What kind of leader do you aim to be? Someone who can inspire a child to set an impossible dream and follow through on it
Leaders you admire Champions in all sports
Any tips that worked in your favour? Surround yourself with a great team. In my case, it was my parents, my coaches, my nutritionist, trainer, mental fitness coaches. Your success, even in an individual sport, is always dependent on good support.
One incident that changed your life? Qualifying for the 2008 Olympics