As the famous adage goes, ‘every human being has a true calling’ and the lucky ones are able to find it. Perhaps, 44-year-old Karuna Waghmere does not even know that she has stumbled upon her purpose, but she sure has shaken up every feminine stereotype on her way. Year after year, she continues to live her motto: Age is nothing but a number. “I am the first bodybuilder to represent our country in Asia where I won a bronze medal. Soon after, I secured a fourth-place at the World Championships. I am also the first in the country to win a medal in Amateur Olympia. Besides, I became the first International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) Women’s Physique athlete to win the Shiv Chhatrapati award in bodybuilding, something that has never happened in 50 years,” says Karuna.
Image: Instagram / Karuna Waghmare
Karuna did not always spend her days lifting weights, in fact, it wasn’t until 31 years that she decided to get into shape. “I always wanted to excel in sports, but couldn’t because I was from a poor background. We were six siblings and we used to live in a chawl (shanty) in Kurla, Mumbai. Somehow, I never wanted to stay there. Hence, I would keep myself busy by selling sarees on the train or hitting the gym as a trainer. This helped me stay out of chawl for most of the day. Until 31, I was only earning money. When I finally settled down, I thought it was the right time to start off,” says Karuna, who is a four-time Miss Maharashtra title winner.
Gender hurdles have always existed in the field of sports, and most definitely, even to the most liberal ones, there are but mighty pre-conceived notions about women bodybuilding. Venturing into a domain restricted to only men in the country, Karuna has been redefining proverbial standards of female beauty and strength thoroughly. From having her womanhood questioned to being labelled a ‘bhai sahab’, this woman of steel has always remained on the periphery of society. Women have always been made to conform to the notion of what ‘is a woman’ and what ‘must a woman look like’, agrees Karuna.
Throughout the years, her goals have evolved and changed, but one thing has remained constant: her love for building muscles. “One day, I remember having seen a picture of a mother-of-six fitness model with six-pack abs in a magazine that sparked the inspiration in me. That’s when I decided to focus on female physique competitions. I thought to myself, ‘I can represent India on a global scale’. Yes, I badly wanted to gain that body type,” she admits, with a slight gleam in her eye.
Belonging to a middle-class conservative household, she was apprehensive about wearing short clothes and bikini to showcase her body. Karuna explains, “My father was very strict. He has a mindset that women are best suited to become teachers, they shouldn’t pursue anything else. We are not allowed to wear short skirts or sleeveless shirts. Even today, if he sees me wear sleeveless shirts, he will come and say ‘Karuna, jacket pehen lo’. But my mother and sisters are very supportive.”
Despite her late start to the sport, the 2018 Miss Mumbai Karuna has had overwhelming success. “For all those who don’t know, bodybuilding gets better with age. The muscle maturity is there, hence it becomes easier. I was always active in sports and fitness. My fat percentage always remained normal. But for people who haven’t had a stint with fitness ever, it might be a little difficult initially. But that shouldn’t be the excuse.”
While bodybuilding is now deeply entrenched in her daily routine, it doesn’t always come easily for Karuna. “That’s common!” she exclaims. “The discrimination is evident in the gym. Of course, there are people who troll me. They say, ‘oh, she must have consumed anabolic steroids’, that is because they cannot achieve it themselves. Honestly, it has never bothered me,” she avers. Well, next time when you’re trying to talk yourself into making it to the gym or not blowing off that extra mile or lap, let this feisty bodybuilder be your fitspo.