May 2, 2012
His Journey From India to Seoul: Vijay Raj
By Jennifer Tan
"Whether he becomes a Games-level athlete, a CrossFit coach or even a Bollywood star, he will be somebody."A little over a year ago, Jesse...
"Whether he becomes a Games-level athlete, a CrossFit coach or even a Bollywood star, he will be somebody."A little over a year ago, Jesse...

"Whether he becomes a Games-level athlete, a CrossFit coach or even a Bollywood star, he will be somebody."

A little over a year ago, Jesse O’Brien of Westlake CrossFit introduced the global CrossFit community to “The Extraordinary Vijay Raj”, via the CrossFit Journal. Through O’Brien and three CrossFit Calgary coaches and athletes, we came to learn of a young man with a big heart for everyone and everything in his life, be it Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, cricket or coaching the children at his local affiliate, Sri Ram Ashram.

 “Whether he becomes a Games-level athlete, a CrossFit coach or even a Bollywood star, he will be somebody,” O’Brien claimed at the tiem.

He got two out of three. One Level 1 Certificate and a successful 2012 Open later, Raj is Seoul-bound for the Asia Regional.

Having done CrossFit for the past three years, Raj decided to tackle the Open, though he is no stranger to competition. Raj was selected for a scholarship due to his cricketing talents and has also competed in Olympic weightlifting contests. “I like to compete and I always like to have challenges in front of me.”

For Raj, the easiest Open Workout by far was 12.1.  Weighing in at 62 kg, gymnastics movements come easily and naturally to the athlete. After completing 125 burpees, Raj was ranked 11th in Asia, but his easiest workout was immediately followed by his most challenging. “The hardest Open Workout was the snatch, as I hurt my wrist only a few days beforehand,” he says. “Even if that wasn’t the case, the weight was still heavy for me.” 

Raj’s position plummeted from 11th place to 244th.

The beauty of CrossFit is evident in Raj’s fluctuations throughout the remainder of the Open – he is the perfect example of how this really is anyone’s for the taking.  Placing 26th, 4th and 8th respectively for Workouts 12.3, 12.4 and 12.5, he landed himself in the final position of 37th for the Asia Region.

Once he qualified, Raj had to choose between finishing his college term and flying out to compete. “It was a difficult decision to make, but I decided to go to Regionals,” he says. “I am so happy being able to represent the CrossFit community in India. It is a golden opportunity.”

Traveling out of the country is easier said than done. Raj came across more than his fair share of problems in the lead-up to Regionals. Rashmi Cole, the woman behind Sri Ram Ashram, went with him on an all-night bus to Delhi to get his visa for the trip. There, Raj faced the challenge of telling the embassy official what CrossFit is and why he wanted to travel outside the country. Language barrier problems persisted, and at the end of the forty-five minute interview, the Korean officer questioning Raj still had no idea what CrossFit was.  Luckily for Raj and to the deep relief of Cole, they granted him the visa anyway.

The heavy weights involved across the three days of Regionals are something of a concern for Raj, but his attitude remains positive. “I am training for Regionals at home. These workouts are very heavy and don’t favor me, but I am not giving up, I am going to do my best.”

As a result of this concern, whilst applying for the visa, Raj and Cole had simultaneously been on a hunt for some 45 kg dumbbells for him to practice with after the announcement of Individual Event 3. Ordering them would have meant a wait of several weeks that Raj did not have. Suppliers they spoke with were quick to suggest lighter weights, believing Cole and Raj to have mistaken kilos for pounds. The search continued deep into the heart of Delhi, where they managed to get their hands on a pair of 40 kg dumbbells hidden in a wholesale shop tucked away in the corner of a crowded market.

From here, Cole got them into a taxi to avoid carrying the two heaving chunks of metal around the metro stations, but they still had to get from their drop-off point to their bus. “Vijay had to farmer’s walk the dumbbells from the bus station entrance to our bus,” Cole says. “It’s hard to fully appreciate the situation without having been there, but picture a distance of several hundred meters of teeming masses of humanity, constant horns, smells, uneven ground, dodging and weaving around buses, avoiding piles of rubbish and waste, total chaos. Every time he put the dumbbells down, porters ran up to help, but they couldn’t even lift one.”

Finally, after avoiding a dog nursing her newborn puppies and countless feet that Raj had feared dropping one of the dumbbells on, they made it to the bus, where they were cheekily charged extra just to get them on board. A true test of functional fitness, they arrived home several hours later, tired, but pleased.

Back at Sri Ram Ashram they strapped extra plates to the dumbbells to get the weight up to 45 kg and Raj has been practicing with them since. The children of Sri Ram Ashram threw him a good luck party before he left India, and it is within this extended family (and beyond) that Raj finds his inspiration to continue doing CrossFit.

The spark and fierce determination O’Brien spoke of seem to have grown over the last year, and it would seem there is no obstacle course too great for Vijay Raj.

Vijay Raj will be competing at the Asia Regional this weekend, May 4-6, 2012. Find more details here.