Hailing from Chennai, Vinolee Ramalingam is India’s first woman to compete in four Ironman 140.6 events and the first woman from Tamil Nadu to qualify for two consecutive Ironman 70.3 World Championships in France and Finland. During Ironman Kazakhstan, she became the fastest female triathlete from Tamil Nadu with a time of 14 hours and 9 minutes and clocked the fastest cycling leg of 180 kms with a time of 6 hours 29 minutes.
In this exclusive interview, Vinolee Ramalingam speaks about her journey so far, competing in four Ironman 140.6 events, competing at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in France and Finland, importance of mental strength, overcoming challenges and future goals.
Q 1) When were you first introduced to triathlon and what motivated you to pursue it professionally?
I started my journey in 2016 because I was overweight (82 kgs) and had too much stress because of working from 7 AM to 7 PM. I wanted to pay attention to the fitness side of things, so I went to do open Water swimming and from there I came to know about triathlon. Within 3 months I did my half iron distance and during that time I came to know that there is a full iron in December 2016. Completing the full iron distance became my next target and the practice for that is June to November. I was working as an assistant professor and I scheduled my practice for morning and evening. In October I attended ¾ ironman distances in Hyderabad and in December I did the full iron.
Q 2) You are India’s first woman to have competed in four Ironman 140.6 events, which is arguably the toughest, most demanding one-day sporting event on the planet. How do you prepare yourself ahead of such an event?
It's difficult to schedule yourself for the event especially as a woman because I have an 11 year old son. I had started preparing 1 week prior to the event. In the morning I have to do two sessions after which I take care of my family. As a woman in India, it's always a lot of pressure on us. I just love the sport and that is how I balance my life. The most difficult thing is to practise 180 kms of cycling. I love practising the sport, participating in events and that's how I keep going every year.
Q 3) How was the experience of competing at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in France and Finland? How proud are you of being the first woman from India to qualify for two such events in a row?
As an Ironman triathlete the goal is always to qualify for the World Championship. France was an incredible experience for me because in Chennai where we practise it is a flat course. France was the toughest one because you have to go 45 kms up with an elevation of 1300 metres and then 45 kms down. I kept on practising by going to the Yelagiri hills and stayed there for 1 week. They reduced the cut offs every 5 minutes as well. It is a great challenge because you can't get much practice for the hills in India. I completed it in some 7 hours 50 minutes and it was a great experience to do it with women from all over the world, some of them even 60-70 years old. It was a very proud moment when they announced my name after finishing.
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Q 4) While these events are obviously physically demanding, how important is mental strength in the preparation and competing at these sporting events?
Mental strength is very important because it is an endurance sport. I once went to Kazakhstan for an event in August because my Schengen visa was rejected and I had to register for this event at the last moment. But even after so much work my passport didn’t arrive in time as we reached Kazakhstan a day before the event. I was very determined to achieve a sub thirteen time for which I was working hard for the last 4 months and I was desperate to achieve this target at any cost. I travelled 36 hours to reach Kazakhstan but honestly I did not feel any mental fatigue because I got the opportunity to take part in an international event and I didn't want to waste this opportunity. We as athletes have to be mentally prepared for any uncertainty.
Q 5) What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in your sporting career? How did you overcome them?
I have faced a lot of criticism in public as well as on social media. In 2019, two days before my event I read all of these negative comments as it was quite challenging during my early phases of my career. I said to myself that it is my goal, my dream and my ambition so I turned a blind eye towards all the hatred. Initially it was difficult but these criticisms don't faze me at all.
Q 6) What are your future goals? How are you preparing yourself to achieve them?
My goal is to qualify for the Hawaii event and I want to reduce my timings as well. Preparation is going well and I have to believe in myself that I can achieve my goals.