Defence Forum Speaks to Maj Surender Malik, Instructor at a Training Academy and a Triathlete

Major Surender Malik is a third generation army officer from Haryana. His father is Col SP Malik, VSM and was a mountaineer for the Indian Army. His grandfather served in the Burma campaign. So joining the army was a natural choice and he couldn’t think of life beyond that. He was commissioned in the Army Ordnance Corps and served his attachment at Siachen Glacier with an infantry battalion. He has served in Assam, Bhutan and Jabalpur and is presently posted as an instructor in one of the training academies. He was a good sportsman through school, college and his training days and played all sports but found his calling in Triathlons at the age of 30 that comprise of back to back swimming-cycling-running events. He participated in his first sprint triathlon in Jaipur in 2017 and got the second position. There has been no looking back since then.

Defence Forum speaks to Major Surender Malik on what motivated him to join the army, his passion regarding sports and his life at Training Academy.

Q. What motivated you to join the armed forces and was army your first choice?

Ans: I am a third generation fauji and come from the state of Haryana where joining the forces is an automatic choice. In my house, while growing up, the influence of army life was so strong that it would really be an effort to relegate the choice of career to something else(apart from army). My grandfather was in the Army, my father retired recently as a Colonel and most of my cousins and relatives are either still serving or retired from the Indian Army. I have two brothers and the elder one was selected for RIMC but unfortunately couldn’t clear the medicals and the younger one cleared his SSB but was again declared ‘unfit’ because of his tattoo covered arms. So you see the army wasn’t just a career but a normal outcome of what I saw while growing up.

Q. Tell us more about AOC regiment and how it plays a very important role?

Ans: The Army Ordnance Corps(AOC) is one of the oldest Corps of the Indian Army going back 243 years. The role of the AOC is a logistics one and it ensures support to the field army during war and peace. In addition it handles all matters related to ammunition management of the Indian Army and conducts demolitions of UXO. As the old adage goes, “the extent of any commander’s operations are the extents of his logistics”. The AOC, like all units of the Indian Army ensures that the Army and it’s soldiers are ready to fight when the nation calls upon them to do so.

Q. As you have served at Siachen, we know that the conditions are deadly and extremely harsh, how was your experience at Siachen and also what are the problems faced by soldiers at such high altitudes?

Ans: The experience is something that has to be felt and I can’t do justice to it by mere words. It was a great honour just to be there at that time and space that all so called hardships and difficulties seemed trivial. Yes the conditions are harsh and deadly but a soldier is trained for it. Right from the academy days to specialised training in the location, you are being trained mentally as well as physically to take on any challenge and Siachen is no different. We are a professional army and all soldiers are prepared in terms of training and logistics to take on the challenges of Siachen. Be it freezing temperatures, avalanches, lack of oxygen, medical issues or any other contingencies, all issues are addressed and all personnel given adequate training to handle them before being inducted. So I was prepared for what I went through in the glacier and came out hale and hearty, having done my duty.

Q. Were you always enthusiastic about sports or someone motivated you?

Ans: Absolutely! If you ask me even today what gives me the greatest pleasure in life, sports has to be right up there. Through school, college and then the Academy, I have been a thorough sportsman and played almost all games. I had to be locked up by my parents on occasions to prevent me from going out and playing. Also, being three brothers, there was no dearth of competition in the house. My father was an excellent sportsman himself and made his mark in mountaineering for the Army and won many sports awards from the Army as well as State governments. That was a great source of inspiration too.

Q. How long have you been running marathons? What made you start?

Ans: In the Army as you’re aware running forms a major part of physical training and I discovered my knack for running in the academy. But it wasn’t until March 2017 that I ran my first competitive Half Marathon in Amritsar. A month later I took part in the Jaipur International Triathlon 2017 and secured the second position. That itself gave me a boost and self confidence that I could still do this. Since then I’ve done about 45 half marathons and 10 Triathlons where in I’ve secured podium finishes in 12 events across India.
When I turned 30, there was a desire to prove to myself that 30 doesn’t mean the end of your peak fitness as widely believed but can be a springboard to greater heights in life. So I decided I would test myself at the global stage in an Ironman competition just like Milind Soman had done when he turned 50. So I enrolled for the Ironman 70.3 in Sri Lanka and completed it in Feb 2018. I did pretty well as per the targets I had set and now I look forward to doing a full Ironman as and when I’m ready for it.

Q. Did marathon running involves any lifestyle changes in food and workout habits for you?

Ans: Yes, Marathon and Triathlon training takes a lot of sacrifices and will power if you aim to succeed. You will have to sacrifice a lot of weekends and early mornings to get out of bed and hit the road. Apart from that strength training in the gym would be needed to prevent injuries and build race strength. Earlier I would eat junk and hit the gym only to ‘look’ good. But that changed over the years with experience and now I focus more on strength training and eating the right type of food. This may sound like a very difficult thing but once you’re into the grind and start seeing results, you would automatically stay away from the vices of junk food, alcohol etc.

Q. What is your training routine like?

Ans: My week is divided into 3 days of gym training and the rest of the week is a mix of swimming, cycling and running. Sunday’s are usually reserved for long cycling rides or runs and rest for the rest of the day. I try in put in 15-20 hours of practice each week, varying what kind of practice I do.

Q. What role does diet play in your running regime?

Ans : Diet is paramount. Perhaps even to exercise. If you workout and practice but don’t eat right, you’re reversing the effects of whatever you’ve gained. Most people I know think you can exercise and then eat anything you want. The body doesn’t work that way. If you want your body to give optimum results, you need to give it the right fuel. For an endurance athlete, fuel is everything. No matter how fit I am, if I don’t get my race Day fuel I will not be able to perform. So I say again, diet is extremely important to build, recover and perform.

Q. As an Instructor at Training Academy, what are your duties? What was the toughest part which you experienced till now?

Ans: As an instructor, your duties are never spelt out but you are required to groom the Cadets 24×7. Your cadets will follow and imbibe what you do more than what you say. So you have to lead by example always. You have to be at your best always in all spheres ie; physical fitness, tactical knowledge, weapon training, dressing sense etc.

Every day is a new experience and can’t say about the ‘toughest’ experience as such as all cadets are different and have to be handled as such. Apart from the physical part, the mental part is more important. If you can motivate a person mentally he will be able to push himself physically. That’s the most important part. The mental strength is what defines an officer and that’s what we try to imbibe.

Q. How do you motivate the young gentleman cadets in their daily life?

Ans: As far as motivation goes, nothing works better than a personal example. Apart from tales of valor and bravery, the conduct of officers and staff serves as the best form of motivation in the academy. Also making them aware of the reality of army life and giving them sound knowledge about their equipment and training well gives them the self-confidence to take on all challenges they might face in the field.

Q. What’s your plan for upcoming years?

Ans: In the upcoming years I have two very clear goals as far as Triathlons go, I want to become the fastest Ironman athlete in India. Secondly I want to improve upon my Olympic Triathlon distance performance and perform at the National Level.

Q. What advice you want to give to the youth regarding fitness and for joining in the army?

Ans: My advice to the youth regarding joining the army would be that if you feel you have the drive and the capability to be an army man, come join us. Give us your dedication and sincere efforts and we will make sure you get a life that you wouldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams. This is a career that will set you apart from the crowd, and teach you skill sets that will serve you for life ! Take it from a third generation army man, it’s amazing!

As far as advice regarding fitness goes, I’d say that start with little goals. Take each day at a time. And don’t let anyone make you believe you’re mediocre. Believe in yourself and keep working towards your goals. I speak from experience when I say the high of fitness and sports is greater than any high in the world. Do try it!

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