Daughter to an Air Force officer and teacher from Punjab, Rita Jairath had a keen interest in physical activities throughout her life but never thought of bodybuilding. Coming from a family struggling with mental illness issues to winning the National Body Lifting Championship thrice consecutively in a row, life, indeed, has come a full circle for Rita. She is the only woman IFBB Pro-League International bodybuilding judge from South-east Asia and has won many national and international accolades.
There was hardly any awareness in India about bodybuilding during the eighties when Rita was in her teenage years. However, her father being an officer in Indian Air Force, had her acquainted with bodybuilders from the Air Force and sportspersons from other sports as well. At a boxing match in Madras, she had once seen Muhammad Ali. “Catch me if you can” was the song the crowds were chanting. This had a significant impact on her. The dynamic Indian Air Force culture served as a role model for her fitness and bodybuilding métier.
Her fight for life began right from her mother’s womb, as while her mother conceived Rita, she fell sick with schizophrenia. The journey of a long battle started from here. She married a merchant navy officer and has a son born with autism. While consulting with various doctors for her son, one neuropsychiatrist suggested Rita to enroll his son in sports and gym. This was the phase when she, alongside her son, started training and participating in local fitness competitions. Slowly over time, she started to recognize her unique caliber, and that’s how her interest in bodybuilding was initiated.
It was difficult to venture into bodybuilding by being one of the first few Indian women to get into bodybuilding.
People went uncomfortable when they saw a woman training with such heavyweights. Thus, they never allowed her to do it and even her family opposed. The opposition in everything from taking a special diet, traveling for competition, weight training, taking out time for the gym, spending money, everything was made to look as if it was not recommended for a woman to do and she is doing a wrong thing. Rita said in an interview, “As per the society, an ideal woman should stay at home and look after her family. Whenever I started my training with weights, people came to me to tell me how not good it is for women to train with such heavyweights.”
Breaking the Barriers
Bodybuilding is a totally different league in India and was mainly a male-dominated arena in the 80s. Nonetheless, someone like Rita had just to come forth and break all the barriers. A National Level competition, she won the Gold’s Gym Miss Fitness title in her initial days. Gradually, when she made her mind finally to compete, she had no one around for the right kind of guidance.
Rita shares, “During those days, I was introduced to Bombshell Fitness of the USA’s Shannon Dey by Mr. Sheru Aangrish. I traveled to Daytona Beach to Florida to pursue knowledge from her. In due course, I met various elite people who taught me how to go about my journey. It wasn’t easy to do this in India. It was nearly profane for women to look muscular, do bodybuilding, and wear a bikini and was not much accepted and respected.”
Rita is indeed an overcomer who faced every battle alone and traveled to various countries for competitions without sponsorship. This struggle gave her tremendous exposure, taught her a lot, and opened up new avenues of opportunities. With many awards under her wings, like the medals won at Amateur Olympia, Arnold Classic, New York Championship, and many more, Rita is now keen to explore her potential in the field of arts and classical Indian dance. Rita says, “So when I retired from competitive and professional bodybuilding, all I lost was the intense degree of conditioning and the much-reduced fat levels. However, I really identify with bodybuilding, not just for competition, but because I enjoy the lifestyle, the strength, and the abilities I have acquired and gained from it. I’m very much the same as ever, still training and adopting a balanced diet and lifestyle.”