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This founder’s healthy habits rub off on her team

HealthSetGo’s Priya Prakash says working out has given her a never-give-up attitude

HealthSetGo’s Priya Prakash.
HealthSetGo’s Priya Prakash.

Last month, the 25-member team of HealthSetGo, a healthcare startup that aims to nurture a network of schools that promote health, walked into a glitzy mixed martial arts studio in Gurugram for their monthly town hall meeting. The work agenda had to wait till after the hour-long mixed martial arts class. Leading them through the rigorous punch-and-kick routine was their 27-year-old chief executive officer Priya Prakash, who has made it a point to ensure that her team practices what it preaches. “For most of these meetings, I make sure we do something that improves our health and fitness," says Prakash. “Whether it’s about taking the team out for a mixed martial arts class or doing push-ups in-house, we make sure that it’s a fitness-based activity. We bond better when we sweat together." While fitness plays a key role in bringing the team closer, it plays a much bigger role in Prakash’s life. Her journey from an overweight schoolgirl to a fit entrepreneur who can dead lift 110kg for fun and win powerlifting competitions became the basis for her venture HealthSetGo. At present, the startup’s programme covers 5,00,000 schoolchildren and parents across 77 cities.

“I was bullied a lot at school for my weight. For a young girl who was trying to fit in, it really broke my self-esteem. In college, things became even worse as I saw girls who never used to eat and I tried to do the same. By the time I turned 20, I’d had enough. I decided to take control of my life and walked into a gym in 2012," recalls Prakash, who loves the high intensity CrossFit workouts. “I was lucky enough to meet my coach, who made me align my priorities not with the weighing scale but with how strong I felt. He made me aspire to do things I never thought a girl like me could do. Today, I am a silver medallist in weightlifting championship (Delhi State Weightlifting Championship) and have won numerous fitness competitions. This journey inspired me to start my own health venture for schoolchildren. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did before adopting a healthy lifestyle. It should be a part of our lives from the very beginning."

Prakash’s lifestyle underwent a complete change after she joined the gym. “I quickly realized that the hours in the gym did not matter as much as the 23 hours outside it. So I started sleeping for 7 hours, eating non-processed food, gave up sugar and started drinking more water. Unsurprisingly, it has given me the stamina to keep up with the entrepreneurial life that I lead," says Prakash, who also enjoys boot-camp workouts and rock climbing.

Since life in a startup can be unpredictable, the Lady Shri Ram College for Women alumna starts training at 7am. Once she enters the office few hours later, she can never be sure where her work would take her or how long her day might stretch. What she’s sure of is that her plate is always full of healthy food. This often has a domino effect on her team. “When people observe me eating a healthy lunch at work, they too try to adopt healthier eating habits," she says.

With the average age of her team hovering around 28, Prakash is quick on detecting the pulse of her team. She is already at peace with the fact that every individual is on their own road to fitness and health. “Whenever someone comes in to HealthSetGo, they don’t have to be the most fit or healthy. But by being a part of the organization, team members are able to imbibe changes in their lifestyle. Team building activities focused on health have been great for increasing awareness," says Prakash.

While the old Prakash would give up the minute things got tough, the new healthy avatar starts thinking like an athlete when it comes to dealing with tough situations at work. “If I didn’t feel ready for a challenge, I never took it up. I procrastinated on things that were difficult. Today, I persist when things are hard. Now, I am ready to take them head on. A huge part of this is because of CrossFit," says Prakash. “CrossFit is a community. I took a lot of lessons to office from the gym: motivating others towards a common goal and positively reinforcing the goal over a period of time. It helped me to cultivate the never-give-up attitude and push myself beyond mental blocks. Personally, sometimes when I need to get some work done, I switch on the stopwatch and do it for time like a lot of CrossFit workouts."

Fit Boss is a series in which startup founders talk about how sports activities help them stay more productive in and outside office.

Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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