The Sikh Triathlete- inherent disadvantages of being a Sikh

The reason I tie these two words together is, because I carry my Sikh identity everywhere I go, it is to let the world know that Sikhs are in every sphere of the life. Yes, there is still a large population out there who are ignorant about Sikhs, and that is why I proudly prefix ‘Sikh’ to whatever I do.

I am proud of my heritage and have never ever thought that Sikhi has held me back from anything. If there is anything holding me back then it is the discipline and structure in my daily life.

I write this post to clear any air about Sikhi being inherently disadvantageous to me in the sport of triathlon. For over a year there is a documentary titled ‘The Odd Couple- A story of two Triathletes’ going around in various movie festivals and seminars. I would like to point it out that the movie depicts a journey of a Sikh guy who loves to be active outdoors, but the movie is falsely advertising that Sikhi is challenging to follow while being in the sport of triathlon or Sikhi is inherently disadvantageous to the guy shown in the movie, and that guy being me.


Triathlon is a sport where you first Swim, then bike and then run, and all three are done 2013-09-17-12-10-20one after the other, that is why it is called ‘Tri’athlon. There are varied distances to this, and the most popular is the ‘Ironman’ distance. In order to be very efficient in all three, one needs to save every minute and second. If any of my readers follow the sport of swimming or cycling, you would notice the muscular quads and clean shaved faces. Now why is that? It is because body hair causes air draft, and at elite level shaving your legs can bring you a lot of air efficiency and 4-5 minutes in time. Nobody likes to shave their legs, but the elites or the pro do it, because that is the easiest and cheapest way to save tons of money and get faster.

Sikhs keep unshorn hair. It is one of the articles of Sikh faith. Historically speaking Sikhs have been quite athletic and adventurous. Our ancestors were great swimmers who during battles with the Mughals used to topple their boats when crossing rivers. Overtime, tandoori chicken and aalo parantha are the words that more closely describe Sikhs and punjabi’s.

I am being very generic, and I mean no harm or offense against any one person, with the above description. My intention is to clear the air about myself, as portrayed by the movie and the movie banner. While the director did a great job in editing the movie, there are scenes in the movie and there were scenes shot which just exaggerate things. There were movie scenes shot where I was made to fiddle and adjust with my bike helmet on my head, even though I never have to in my real life, they are well designed. BTW, a food for thought- lot of women have long hairs.

People get into the sport of triathlon for various reasons, some personal, some emotional and some want to be a pro-athlete. If you take that reason out, then there is loss of interest. My reason was to definitely get Sikh representation in the sport, and connect with others to tell them about my faith. And you know what, all this without holding a seminar or distributing placards. Lot of my colleagues from work have seen me in the men’s room tying a turban and grooming my beard after a shower, and this has only initiated some kind of talk about my appearance. How did it affect me?- There is always one or two people who learn about Sikhs by talking to me.

I became a part of the movie, based on the initial idea of inspiring Sikhs, but the direction took its own turn.

I have always been clear of one thing, that Sikhism teaches discipline and it teaches it in a very unique way. Keeping unshorn clean hair and tying a turban is one of those ways. I am part of a faith that already teaches to be disciplined and learn time management, and that is all that the sport of triathlon demands. One needs to manage time, and be disciplined in training, eating habits, time around the family and time towards Gurbaani. How can this kind of a faith be ‘inherently disadvantageous’??

Yes, there are challenges, but how can you compare Sikhi being a challenge with a genuine challenge of someone who is a one leg amputee? Coming out of the swim, and head is not covered, first putting a bandana to cover the head and then a cycling helmet takes time during transition, but over years, and some thinking I have been able to perfect that art and save time. My beard, let me tell you, it helps me from those ice chills in the ocean water, and the wet beard cools me off on the run. And I just love it. Shaving my legs- yes, it is a challenge, and not worth the choice between triathlon and Sikh faith. I might rather think something innovative to reduce that air drag, which would mean either get more powerful on the legs, OR buy some expensive tights to cover the legs as well.

Whether this will get me into the elite list or not, I do not care as of today.


Many more friendships !!

Sikhism has never been disadvantageous. It has helped me build a unique circle of active people around me, some of whom never knew about Sikhs. It has helped me to be strong in my healthy habits.



My Friend Jeff !!



If people think that being a Sikh is challenging then my friend you have a bigger problem in understanding the basic tenets of Sikhi, than to tackle the integration of triathlon and Sikhi. A real challenge is a physical challenge (well, it also has a mental aspect to it), which my triathlete friend Jeff Schmidt is dealing with (one leg amputee). He was inspirational to me no doubt, but I cannot compare his challenges to mine covering my head during the swim to bike transition. I am thankful to him for mentoring me initially when I was naïve to the sport. Funny thing is that when I get into the water or put on my bike helmet, I never get the feeling that ‘Oh! I have a beard and head bun’. I am too focused on the task and not on my appearance.

If those who have watched the documentary ‘The Odd Couple – a story of Two Triathletes’ think that Sikhism is disadvantageous to me, are free to connect with me. It is your own mind, your assumptions, and self-created limitations that is inherently disadvantageous.

2 thoughts on “The Sikh Triathlete- inherent disadvantages of being a Sikh

  1. Soooo nice to read your article and clear thinking perspectives on Sikhi, sport, and how most limitations are in the mind, but not there in actual reality. My teenage son has started training for his first triathlon and I’d like to ask you for tips on
    a) how do you fit a helmet easily (with a patka/bandanna or not?), with loose hair swept back or in a tight bun/jooda?
    b) also, any tips for managing his hair during transitions – any advice would be GREATLY appreciated!

    • SSA Karanbir Singh ji, exciting to know that your son is getting into the sport. my best wishes to him. To answer your questions-
      a) loose hair swept back is the easiest during transitions T1 and T2. this is how i have started doing off late. earlier i used to tie a bandana with bun behind but now i just do that in and while getting out of T2.
      b) if his hairs are too thick, then the easiest and quickest would be to keep them loose under the helmet or just tie a pony coming out of swim. another tip, wet hairs under the swim cap wont get loose quickly, as soon as he takes his swim cap off he can put his helmet on. for the bike to run transition, he may have to practice tying his hair into a bun at the back of head, while transitioning out (while starting run) and then cover it with a bandana (personally like the ones sold by sports basement).
      practice transitions 🙂
      let me know if you have any follow up questions. more than happy to help. keep me posted 👍

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