“The feeling of being on the podium is special. With each kilometer, I got a kick. And got more competitive.” – Kirti Virmani.
The high of winning can be addictive. For fitness fanatic, digital marketer, trained nail artist, mother of two and ambassador for cycling Kirti Virmani however, it was a little more than that. A little deeper. It was an opportunity to meet someone special. Her self. The inner one. The real one. With every thousand kilometer she logged on her bike, and with every accolade and recognition that followed, the two personas just got more and more intimate with each other. Today, they are thick pals, each feeding off the strength and flair of the other. And steadily lifting Kirti’s stature as both a down-to-earth fighter who’s always up for a challenge, and a loveable role model for her sport.
It took a little time to surface, but the competitive DNA was always there in Kirti. Tucked away, perhaps, under the layers of the simple Hissar girl who had moved to Yamunanagar after her marriage in 2001, and thereon to Gurgaon with her family sometime in 2007. “I remember the girl who used to be home all the time. But nudged by my sister after the birth of my daughter in 2012, and encouraged by my husband, I changed my routine. I started running.”
It was around this time that Kirti started feeling a strange attraction towards cycling. Long distance cycling, to be specific. She had been cycling since she was a kid, but this was different. With every kilometer she conquered, the infatuation only grew stronger.
“I started with 20km and moved to 50, 70 and 100km. I have done a lot of long distance cycling and a few races. I have no idea how the 100km became 200km, 300km and 600km” she recalls. Somewhere along the way, the genes of ambition kicked in. In 2017, she completed a Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Agra Golden Triangle ride, covering 750 kms over three terrific days.
The transformation was complete, and striking. Kirti Virmani had found her athletic calling on the bike.
Today, if you are sport enough to brave the elements and ungodly hours, you may spot Kirti on her faithful bike on the roads when the city is fast asleep. Pedaling breathlessly along the Grand Trunk Road at 2 am, a blinding streak of speed and passion slicing the silence of the night. Or nursing a cuppa at her favorite tea stall on the NH1 at 3 in the morning, as she recharges her batteries. Don’t raise your eyebrows. It’s just what champions do. They turn the clock – along with the odds and naysayers – right on their head.
Kirti Virmani breaks into a smile when asked about the shift from a recreation cyclist and the competitive streak in her. “It is exciting. I was an average child. I started cycling as a recreation and to get into shape.”
Along the way, she got introduced to the other Kirti. The alter ego whose presence she had always felt within, but never had the opportunity to be formally introduced. It took cycling to finally bring them face to face. Narrates the champ : “I discover myself when I am on the bike. At that point of time, I am not just a wife or a mother. When I am on the saddle, I don’t think about anything other than giving the best in training. It is a bit like meditation. I get a lot of me time. I got reintroduced to myself, thanks to cycling.”
As a mother of a lad in Engineering College and a 11-year-old daughter, she is often asked whether it’s difficult for mothers to take up a sport. “If you want to do something, you will find a way to do it. One must just schedule the day well and things will fall in place”, she replies with radical candor. Of course, the support of loved ones helps. “In 2017, I did the Manali-Leh ride and my son was having his Board exams. It was tough to leave the kids back home and follow one’s passion. But my in-laws and husband Alok were very supportive”, she confides.
Despite life’s many distractions, the champion’s routine is sacrosanct. She makes a point never to miss it, feeling miserable if she does. Training sorts her day, makes her happy and helps her get more out moments spent with the family. Her children make her proud, and vice versa. They are also her biggest fans. “My son who is in now in the third year of computer engineering studies gave me Rs. 21,000 and told me to get a new bike for myself. My daughter and Alok were with me in Dubai when I did the IronMan 70.3 last year,” she recollects with fondness.
She is modest when asked about being an inspiration as a mother who has done well for herself in competitive sport. “People say I am inspiration. I only do my workout and share on social media. It is gratifying if some find that motivating. I keep getting messages from other mothers and cyclists. I always help them the best I can,” she says.
The alter ego, the inner Kirti, nods in quiet agreement. If anyone deserves the credit, it’s probably her. And that chance meeting between the two indomitable spirits, many years ago.