Arriving in Anand Arnold's hometown Ludhiana, I called him for directions. Given his condition, I expected him to give me directions over the phone but I was baffled when I heard the ease with which Arnold assured me and said, "Don't worry, stay where you are, I'll come and get you." The irony dawned on me then, that I was the one facing a challenge and Arnold was the one coming to my aid! This was my first interaction with Arnold, who is paralysed from the waist down, and I instantly grasped the fact that Arnold was not one to let his disability define him.
The Arnold of Punjab
Born and raised in Ludhiana, Arnold followed his elder brother's footsteps to the gym at the age of 13 and dreamt of becoming a professional bodybuilder. Call it God's gift or good genes, Arnold was able to develop a spectacular physique within a few months of enrolling in the gym and soon started participating in local competitions with bodybuilders twice his age. By the time Arnold turned 15, he already had several students training under him, and his physique became a topic of conversation amongst the biggest bodybuilding names in Punjab. Arnold was moving towards his goal at full speed, and his professional bodybuilding dream seemed within reach. But one day, he felt a shooting pain in his lower back and everything came to a screeching halt.
A fist-sized tumour was detected in Arnold's lower back and the doctors said he had just one week to live. The tumour was removed but the surgery left Anand bedridden as he was completely paralysed from the neck down. After three years of physiotherapy, Arnold regained sensation in his upper body but continued to remain paralysed from the waist down. Depressed by his condition, he lost the zest for everything he was passionate about and isolated himself from the world. There were many who made fun of him but everything changed when some of Anand's previous students decided to intervene and began forcing him to start working out at the gym with them.
Arnold's students were determined to do for him what he had once done for them. They coaxed him to visit the gym with them and pestered him continuously until he finally agreed. 18-year-old Arnold experienced mixed-emotions as he re-entered his former abode after three long, gruesome years. He was in familiar territory but in an unfamiliar state. He felt out of place but enjoyed the sight of seeing others working out around him. Arnold experienced a rush of emotions concocted with old memories as he hesitantly attempted a few reps on the shoulder press machine (his favourite exercise from before the surgery) and instantly felt good. The reps gradually increased to full sets and Arnold's zest for bodybuilding was ignited once again. Understanding his new body and state, he slowly restarted his workouts and realised that this is what he was always meant to do-with or without his legs.
Pumping iron without leg support is a near impossibility, but Arnold was determined and figured out a way to do it. He would tie himself to the bench from the waist with a heavy belt-this helped him avoid slipping off the bench and focus on building his upper body. Spending up to four hours in the gym each day, it was just a matter of time before Arnold's determination and hard work began reaping results. He started regaining his strength and ensured that he did it without the aid of steroids. Arnold says, he is a 100 per cent natural bodybuilder, with his daily diet consisting of one kilo chicken, 30 eggs and two litres of milk.
Within a year of re-entering the gym, Arnold was back in form and began participating in bodybuilding competitions at the age of 20. He has represented India globally, won the Mr India bodybuilding title three times and has been declared Mr Punjab 12 times. Today at 28, he's the official brand ambassador for two leading international brands in India, Hale Life Nutrition and Muscle Mania. American author Allen Woodman wrote a book on Arnold's life and struggles, titled,Weightless: A True Story Of Courage And Determination; he has also recently been approached by two Bollywood directors to make a movie on his life, he tells us. Arnold has won bodybuilding competitions all over the world but his strongest muscle will always be his undying spirit. "I don't know how my story will end, but nowhere in my text will it ever read-I GAVE UP." This is Anand Arnold's status on WhatsApp and his mantra for life. Physically, he is confined to a wheelchair, but his spirit can never be bound.