India’s ability to make a significant mark in the world of sports depends on the support of professionals who can elevate the quality of Indian sports by nurturing young talents to reach their maximum potential. 

Sports Scientist Chetna Mulchandani, our next pathbreaker, applies scientific principles to help professional swimmers achieve their goal of bagging more podium finishes by focusing on an individualized approach to performance enhancement and injury prevention.

Chetna talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about literally living the life of an athlete and moulding them under the most favourable conditions to get the best possible outcomes.

For students, sometimes you can build your career by helping others achieve their dreams! Read on …

Chetna, tell us about your background?

This is Chetna Mulchandani here. I was born and brought up in Mumbai. As a kid, I had always had a lot of interest in science. I used to love to read books, explore new facts and new places.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did Bachelor’s in Physiotherapy from K.J Somaiya College, Mumbai and Masters in Exercise and Sports Sciences, Manipal University.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

One fine Sunny day, when i was 11 years of age, I was enjoying a game with my pals when I accidentally sustained burn injuries and glees turned into shrieks. The horror experience turned bitter at the sight of IVs, injections and medicines. The playful physiotherapy sessions were the only soothing part of the harrowing treatment routine which helped me to cope. This is how I first became aware of and developed a liking for the field of physiotherapy.

I could see how Physiotherapists help improve people’s quality of life and was inspired to take that up as a career after 12th standard. After doing my Bachelor’s, I started working at Prakruti Sports Physiotherapy and Exercise Science Clinic, I came across Prakruti while I was hunting for Jobs online. At Prakruti, I was lucky to witness athletes from SAI (Sports Authority of India), working their way, recovering from injury. I came to realize that the sporting culture in India is not well developed and so the number of professionals in the sport industry are less. At Prakruti clinic, I had come across athletes who were mismanaged during their rehabilitation before visiting Prakruti, which in several cases, led to the end of their career in sports due to reinjury. My intent to help them return to the sport, is what inspired me to do masters in Exercise and Sports Science. 

A colleague of mine was going to study for her masters at Manipal, one of the new courses in India offering a Masters in Exercise and Sports Sciences. That’s when I could see the career opportunity which helped me envision how I would be able to work with these athletes closely to help them get back to sports. Back then, there were no job opportunities in Sports Physiotherapy. I enrolled in the second batch of this newly launched course. However, I got a job opportunity at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital before I finished my course.

Tell us about your career path

There is a mandatory 6 month internship as the part of completing the bachelor’s course of Physiotherapy. My internship allowed me to experience a variety of cases in both outpatient and inpatient departments. This gave me a chance to observe patients in all aspects of rehabilitation in all the fields, allowing me to gain confidence in handling patients independently. 

After finishing my course, I joined Prakruti Sports Science and Physiotherapy Clinic

When I opted for the Masters course, I wasn’t sure if there would be a job opportunity in the Indian Market, considering how sports was still evolving in India. Lucky as I always am, I got an opportunity to do a one-month internship at Kokilaben Hospital. Although I was very good in my subjects, I thought I lacked the physical fitness needed for the job because I was not into sports as a kid and had started playing sports only while doing the course. Meanwhile I continued to work on my shortcomings and although I had least expected it, I did get a job at Kokilaben Hospital. Eventually, in two years, demand in the market grew bigger and bigger and by second year, I was leading the department at two Centres. During my job, I got exposure to work with various athletes, of varied sports, of different age groups from state, to National and International level. I also got an opportunity to do pre-season screenings of Jaipur Pink Panthers, Pro Kabbadi Team. 

My Key responsibilities included but not limited to:

1. Baseline physical assessment (Fundamental movement screening) of both recreational and professional athletes of major sports. (Cricket, Marathon and ultra-distance runners, Gymnastics, Football, Swimmers, etc).

2. Monitoring their physical and physiological status.

3. Individualized tailor-made program designing for performance enhancement and injury prevention.

4. Periodization schedules for peak performance during competition and injury prevention.

5. Monitoring acute and chronic workload for injury prevention.

6. Delivering conditioning and recovery sessions.

Eventually, I got an opportunity at Glenmark Aquatic Foundation, where I get to work with professional swimmers with the goal of bagging more podium finishes at International level.  

How did you get your first break?

There was an on-campus interview opportunity at Manipal for doing an internship for just 3 students out of 10 at Kokilaben Hospital. Kokilaben is one of the few institutes in India which helps athletes not only with just rehabilitation from injuries but also returning to sport. The centre works in a comprehensive manner for performance enhancement and injury prevention. One month of externship at Kokilaben, gave me good practical exposure to working with varied clients in different sports. During the same period, I developed a good rapport with the clients who visited the centre regularly. I realized that there were lots of of clients who played sport, and yet lacked proper knowledge of fundamental movements due to wrong training techniques.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

I’m from a middle-class family. While I opted for a loan for doing my Bachelor’s, I couldn’t opt for a loan again for Masters. So not only did I have to manage my professional fees, daily expenses and hostel fees, but also had the additional responsibility of managing my monthly EMI for educational loan from Bachelors. Fortunately, I found a job and managed to work part time while I was studying. 

I also had to manage the language barrier, since I didn’t know Kannada. 

Where do you work now? 

Currently, I work at Glenmark Aquatic Foundation. Since, it’s a sports academy for professional swimmers, the job is highly competitive and unforgiving. You either win or lose. Either show results or you are out of the game. My typical day starts at 4:00 am. You literally have to live the life of an athlete and attend each and every practice session with them. My role over here is to apply scientific principles to both performance enhancement and injury prevention. I work closely with athletes, coaches and parents to help model these athletes under the most favourable conditions to get the best outcomes. 

 How does your work benefit the society? 

Although India has the largest population in the world, or country still has one of the lowest medals counts at Olympics levels. That’s not because of an inadequate talent pool, its because the talent in Indian sports is not nurtured.

Besides, India is the leading country with people suffering from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, an outcome of an increase in sedentary lifestyle and obesity. We promote active lifestyle in general which is extremely important in reducing the morbidity and mortality of non-communicable diseases like Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Heart Diseases

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

There was a young boxer from a poor family background who suffered from ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. She didn’t do her rehab properly in the first 6 months of ACL injury due to financial constraints. Later, when she came back, she had lost a lot of crucial time where the most health gains were possible. Getting her back to play required a long rehab process. Besides, since she was a youth athlete, she needed a lot of psychological counselling to overcome an injury like that. She was given a special discount from the hospital. Besides the discount, I used to bill her for only alternate sessions. Although she took a lot of time to come out of injury, considering the irregularity, immaturity, I was delighted to see her back to boxing and bagging medals.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

No challenge would be big enough to stop you from pursuing your dreams. 

Future Plans?

State of art facility for athletes so that Indian athletes could bag more medals at Olympic Level,