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HCL Cyclothon - Chennai 2023

23 May, 2023

Losing weight, gaining glory.

For those in awe of Sonia Taneja’s classic transformation story from teacher to National level cyclist, here’s the backstory.

It is still dark out when she picks up her bike and heads for the National highway. It’s a familiar drill but can feel bizarre sometimes. As the first ray of the sun emerges though, everything changes magically. Almost subconsciously, she has picked up speed. The wind in her hair lifts her soul and invites her to pedal faster. “Go claim your destiny”, it whispers gently. By now the sun has lifted clear off the horizon, and everywhere its golden light touches is Sonia Taneja’s kingdom. The lady closes her eyes and inhales deeply, taking in the divine moment. Then decides to slow down for a quick break. She deserves one. After all, as someone who began cycling essentially to lose weight and ended up representing Delhi at the National Championships and National Games, Sonia has certainly come a long way.

She releases her breath slowly and lets her mind travel back. All the way to her first day on a bike. “My husband and I borrowed school children’s bikes overnight and went on a long ride.” There were no apps to track distances back then. The couple realized that they had covered 28 insane kilometers only when the pain in her muscles became too much to bear. “I have not felt that kind of pain ever again,” she recalls, like it was yesterday.

Sonia stayed away from the pedal for a while after that. She was gymming, of course, because she had put on weight after the birth of her first child and desperately needed to shed. The very thought of conceiving a second baby, which might make her tilt the scales at 120 kgs, caused her to lose sleep at night. Sonia joined the local gym, switched to a balanced diet, and – cheered on by friends and fans on social media — even started running. The results were spectacular. In 5 years, she had lost a whopping 31 kgs.

It was the gym that introduced Sonia Taneja to her big calling in life. When fellow gymmers bought bicycles on a whim, so did she. The primary focus was fitness – becoming a cyclist was, in her own words, “beyond my imagination. I did not think I would be a good cyclist. The need of the hour was to get fit and look good”, Sonia reminisces.

But something happened six months later that transformed her life. Sonia won a 12 km race in Sonipat, winning a bike as a prize that was twice as expensive as the one she rode. Soon, she was added to a group of pro cyclists. Her curiosity towards, and affection for, biking was on the rise.

She was doing well too, but at 87 kgs and a height of 5.5, still considered overweight. Sonia was always hard working, and upon professional advice, she decided to crank up the training. In 4 months, her weight was down to 67 and her speed was up by 5 kmph. Sonia Taneja smelt the heady scent of accomplishment in the air. Her talent had found its tarmac.

The next few years were a happy blur. A medley of moments enough to make someone – who trains solo and, barring a month, has never  been professionally coached in her life – proud.

The stats speak for themselves:

Sonia represented Delhi in the 2019 National Road Racing Championships in Bikaner where she finished 19th in the 30km Individual Time Trial  averaging 27.91kmph, and 17th in the 80km Mass Start. She rose to the 14th spot in the 20km Time Trial in the 2021 National Road Racing Championships in Navi Mumbai, averaging 32.02kmph, and 23rd in the 60km Mass Start. She stood 16th in the 30km Individual Time Trial in the 2022 National Games in Gandhinagar with an average speed of 32.34kmph, and 32nd in the 85km Mass Start race.

Today, Sonia follows a consistent, personalized regimen and prefers a basic Indian healthy diet. Her calendar is choc-a-bloc though, leaving the lady with little time to even sip water. Ensuring the scales don’t tilt beyond 72 kgs is, by itself, a task. None of this deters her one bit: “I get tired only emotionally and never physically.” Like all success stories, discipline plays a lead role in her script. Late nights are a no-no. “Even my birthday cake is now cut at 10 p.m. and not at midnight since I sleep early.”

At the HCL Cyclothon, Sonia represented the face of a true fighter. So what did the occasion mean for her? “I am very thankful for HCL and the whole team for this wonderful event. It was a well organised race and looking forward for such amazing races in the future too! You made us feel like celebrity and gave us so much honour and importance. Thank you so much for everything”, she generously gushes.

When she is not balancing work-life-sport like a champ, the mother of two and mathematics teacher lends her shoulder to social causes and joins fellow cyclists in raising awareness about sport. She has also expanded her range to distance running. Her track personality is evolving. A lover of speed, Sonia is now focused on mastering the process. “With time I have understood that I must work on cadence. I am enjoying cycling slower now since I found great reason in paying attention to getting the technique right. I understand the nuances of the sport now”, says the ace cyclist and self-made transformation queen.