"Forget protein supplements and drugs, home-cooked food is all you need to stay fit and happy." Gym Ravi's philosophy is simple, albeit radical in a world besotted by dietary "hacks." The national-level athlete, who has an assortment of awards and medals to his credit and is also a reputed officer with the Income Tax Department, has reached out to students at over 10000 schools across the country, spreading his 'anti-drugs' doctrine. Going from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most-recognised athletes in India, Gym Ravi, who believes that there are no shortcuts to success, tells Ralph Arakkal that "the person who cooks for you is the only dietician you'll ever need."
Gym Ravi's strapping presence at a coffee shop draws several appraising glances and it's only a matter of time before selfie-seekers begin to trickle up to the table. To these the multi-faceted sportsman responds with bear hugs and humble smiles, the latter being one of his most defining traits. "Say no to drugs, yes to life," Ravi says to each of his fans in turn, "YOLO, friends." They proceed to hijack him, bringing this newspaper’s photo shoot to a sudden, not entirely unpleasant halt.
Little about this is surprising: He has gone from scrounging around for spare change to buy a banana from a roadside vendor to representing the tricolour at various transnational platforms over three decades. A.V. Ravi's journey in sport has been nothing short of remarkable. And Gym Ravi, as this income tax officer / bodybuilder is popularly known, has a message to spread.
Breaking down stereotypical notions of injecting steroids or using supplements like protein powders for bodybuilding, the former Mr India has been drawing young minds from across the world, with his philosophy of sticking to natural, home-cooked foods. His physique only stands testament to his success.
"Food made at home, whatever it may be, is best for the body as the lifestyle followed by our ancestors was designed in a scientific way, in accordance with their immediate surroundings, their conditions and the local produce. Dismissing even the wildly popular formulae by muscle men like Arnold Scharzenegger and Hollywood's darling Jackie Chan, Ravi turns instead, to the story of Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata. "Using any kind of drugs to develop body mass will have grave consequences," he maintains.
Ravi's journey began in 1988, when he participated at the varsity-level Body Building Championships for the first time. Not long after, a crowd funding campaign by his family and friends in Kolar ensured his participation in his first-ever international competition, held at Paris. Growing up, it was basketball he loved and he dreamed of playing for the nation. "Still, the whole thing is a fairytale script," Ravi remarks.
Hailing from a family of sportspersons, his father Venkata Ramanappa is a renowned wrestler, his uncles, Anche Ashwath and Akru Somsekhar are both basbetall players, as is his sibling, A.V. Ramesh. His other sibling, A.V. Chandrakala is a Yoga Champion and A.V. Hareesh is a former Mr Karnataka. "The trend continues," he smiles. "My daughter, who is in the ninth standard, loves to swim!"
That's not all. Ravi has had his share of the limelight, working across all four southern movie industries. "I've played the villain in 132 movies," he says. This has given him the chance to work with superstars from Tollywood to Mollywood, although the not-so-villainish Gym Ravi claims he has turned down requests by the likes of Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan to be a personal nutritionist. "No trainer, myself included, can claim to be a certified doctor prescribing drugs, steroids, protein supplements or even a dit. The person who cooks at home regularly, is the best dietician you can have," he believes.
His participation in variuos events for strength sport and field games has helped him amass some 308 medals. The two-time Indian captain for body building, he believes firmly in promoting sport as a way of life and an integral part of mainstream education. "Sport is the best medicine if you want to lead a sound life," says Ravi, who has reached out to over 10,000 schools across India to conduct free awareness sessions against doping.
How does he manage to find a balance between work and his passion? "An understanding superior at work made all the difference," he says, his face lighting up with gratitude as he recalls S. Janardhan, former cricketer and Deputy Director of Income Tax (Inv). Ravi, who served as an inspector in the department, has won laurels for his contributino towards various operations at different levels.
Now 52 years old and more alive than ever to the problems faced by his younger counterparts, Ravi is vociferous about one thing: The lack of government support. "We tend to be seen only as the villains portrayed in films," he says, only half in jest. "But all those who have found success have gone through situations of pain and struggle. Thus, if you want to develop and maintain a fit body, you need to be ready to sweat it out in the gym for hours. And avoid falling prey to false claims made by nutritional products!" Shortcuts, he says, might help you arrive at your destination, but the consequences are severe.
Currently preparing to don his tricolour once more at the 6th Phil Asia Championship and INBA Natural Universe Championship scheduled for later this month at Cibu City and at Las Vegas in November respectively, Ravi signs off with his simple doctrine: "The route to a fit body and a happy mind is simple - Workout, rest and eat. In that order!"...