“I was really looking forward to being at my fourth Olympics and bringing home a medal that [Rohan Bopanna and I] missed out on at Rio in 2016,” says Sania Mirza. The tennis player, who was scheduled to represent India at the summer games in Tokyo, has been preparing for her comeback since the beginning of the year. And even though the pandemic had other plans, she will be putting her Olympian training to use in Airbnb’s curation of online experiences, along with 100 other athletes from the Olympics and the Paralympics.
The line-up includes swimmer Yusra Mardini of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016, who will talk about building resilience to overcome obstacles, while Tatyana McFadden (athletics, USA) will host an inclusive training session. Discuss sneaker culture with Japanese basketball player Rui Hachimura, try beachside Zumba with Brazilian athlete Tom Hintnaus or get a glimpse into two-time Grand Slam-winning Naomi Osaka’s quarantine training. The five-day festival begins on July 25. Some sessions — like Simidele Adeagbo (skelton, Nigeria) on the art of reinvention and positive thinking with Paralympic hero Stephen Miller (athletics, Great Britain) — will be available regularly.
Mirza is the only Indian athlete in the marquee. “When I was approached, I found it very exciting as a way for me to connect with my fans. This was an Olympic year, so in that spirit, I wanted to share my experience of working on my mental and physical health,” she says on the phone from Hyderabad where she is currently staying. She will be talking about her training routine, which includes strength, agility and plyometrics, apart from a couple of hours of practice on her in-house tennis court.
“I converted my ‘trophy room’ into a home gym,” Mirza says, adding, “Even 20 to 30 minutes of exercise can make you feel good. I always feel content after my workout.” And when it comes to craving her favourite foods, she gives it a few days before giving in. “If I feel like having cake five days in a row, then I’ll probably indulge. But I won’t have cake every day! I believe in moderation in everything, which extends to my food habits as well,” she explains. As for her mental health, she says it is not something she really struggles with, apart from the occasional bout of anxiety. “Now that we have realised that our needs are quite simple, I hope we come out better on the other side of the pandemic,” she says.
She will also be talking about parenting her toddler, Izhaan. “Being a tennis player has made me who I am in many ways. It has made me understand the importance of sport, of health, how to deal with losses and to be humble in victory. I hope I can teach him the same, whether he becomes an athlete or not.” Ask if the one-year-old is missing his father, cricketer Shoaib Malik (who is currently in Pakistan) and she says that he is too young to realise the distance and time they are spending apart. “I think it has been worse for [Shoaib], to be honest,” she concludes.
Bookings open on July 22. ₹2,257 for Sania Mirza’s session and approximately ₹1,881 for other athletes