Madhu Singh was 40 years old when she began playing golf. By then, the Army Officer’s wife had two grown-up sons who were fulfilling all her ambitions as a mother, and she herself was running a successful business in home furnishings. Driven to excel in golf as she did in every other aspect of her life, she pushed herself until she reached the top, and won the All India Army Ladies Open.
But Madhu was only just getting warmed up.
By the age of 60, the serial entrepreneur was running another very successful business in serviced apartments around India and Melbourne. Too busy for golf, at the age of 60, she started CrossFit training.
Developed in the US two decades ago, CrossFit is both a physical exercise philosophy and a competitive fitness sport. It incorporates elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics and various other exercises. Over 13000 affiliated gyms across the world offer this sport, and it has a huge following in India as well, especially when it comes to their regional and global competitions.
Taking up such a vigorous form of workout at age 60 raised quite a few eyebrows. “I had to work hard even for the Level 3 coach to accept me,” she smiles. “He said he won’t take me on unless I can do ‘double-under’ skipping, so I began waking up at 5 am every morning to practice that. He took me on.”
Madhu did him proud. She went on to top the entire Indian region in the CrossFit Open (above 60 years group) in 2017, which also makes her Asia Rank 5.
“In our country, women are conditioned to believe that after 40, health and fitness are not important. On the contrary, in other places around the world, women even at 80 are doing CrossFit. It’s excellent for the joints,” says Madhu, who was born in Bulandshahr and raised in Meerut and Agra.
An MSc in entomology, she is also the co-founder of the well-known NGO Pardada Pardadi in Bulandshahr, where over 1700 underprivileged girl students are given free education in both academics and vocational studies. In less than two decades, the NGO has changed the gender dynamics of the region. “Girls have to look for matrimonial matches outside because they’re all smarter and savvier with bank accounts and other modern conveniences than the boys there,” the 62-year-old grins.
Resourceful, active and driven to see the world and make a difference, Madhu would often get frustrated as a younger woman at her husband’s laidback approach to life and his unwillingness to travel. “Call him lazy or enlightened, but he always let me travel alone wherever I wanted to go,” she chuckles, seated in a café in Gurgaon, near her home. “I managed to travel alone around the world, doing business wherever I went and taking care of my own expenses.”
At present, her husband, retired from India’s external intelligence agency RAW and an expert bridge player, and her two sons work together with Madhu in their award-winning real-estate venture, Perch, which they launched in 2008. That leaves Madhu enough time for her other interests such as theatre and of course fitness.
These days, she is doing dead-lifts of 150 pounds, trying to increase to 180. She hopes to represent India in the 2020 CrossFit Games. “Women need to prioritize themselves especially as they grow older,” she advises. “Don’t neglect yourself just because you imagine yourself to be old. Instead of hospitals, go to the gym.”
First published in eShe magazine