Ex-drug ad­dict from Kan­di­vli in­spires oth­ers with string of triathlon medals

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES CITY - Sharmila.Gane­san @times­group.com

There is a Ja­panese geisha on his right fore­arm, what looks like a Greek arm band on his left up­per arm, an alien on his left leg and some­thing he re­grets even more on his spine. “Don’t ask,” says 25-year-old Neil D’Silva about the four mind­less tat­toos that seem to have ma­te­ri­al­ized on his ath­letic body when it used to be frail. Etched dur­ing a blurry four years full of rave par­ties, white pow­ders, nee­dles and des­per­ate trips to Goa, the per­ma­nent tat­toos re­mind this cheery Kan­di­vli man about the time he be­came, in his own words, “a dis­grace” to his un­sus­pect­ing par­ents. “I’m go­ing to have the tat­toos erased as soon as I start earn­ing. Not on my par­ent’s money,” says D'Silva, clearly re­gret­ful of the debt he has piled up dur­ing his jour­ney from for­mer drug ad­dict to ob­ses­sive triathlon ad­dict whose slew of Iron­man medals now not only in­spires his so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers but also school kids who some­times ask him all the wrong de­tails.

Right now, D’Silva is telling us his story with his legs wrapped in­side a black con­trap­tion that hisses from time to time as it cools his mus­cles. He is seated on the bed in his room that could pass for a fit­ness stu­dio. It packs a sponsored tread­mill, two bi­cy­cles that cost a few fixed de­posits, a smart trainer that sim­u­lates (or as D’Silva says “stim­u­lates”) var­i­ous cy­cling ter­rains vir­tu­ally and three frames on his bed­side wall--a gift from his best friend--that each show an an­i­mated man swim­ming, cy­cling and run­ning: the three com­po­nents of a triathlon. Ev­ery now and then, the door to D’Silva’s room opens and in comes ei­ther his fa­ther with fresh pineap­ple juice or his mother with a plate­ful of boiled sweet pota­toes for the ob­ses­sive in­house ath­lete who has com­pleted four over­seas Half Iron­man events so far. His most re­cent medal came this Oc­to­ber from Iron­man 70.3 in Tur­key which he fin­ished in good time for some­one who started train­ing two years ago: four hours and 39 min­utes.

Lean and tall, the 25-year-old seems to bear no re­sem­blance to the chubby boy who smiles from a pic­ture taken dur­ing his teens. That boy had de­flated very quickly af­ter fin­ish­ing twelfth grade when, as a com­merce stu­dent, D’Silva found him­self in the com­pany of a bunch of older boys who ex­per­i­mented with co­caine and other mind-al­ter­ing drugs. D’Silva--whose Face­book post de­scribes his life as “fun, even heady” re­calls: “I wasted four years of my life.” He can’t for­get the morn­ing he stum­bled back home af­ter one of his many des­per­ate trips to Goa as a broke teenager. That’s when his fa­ther, Nixon, smelt the ad­dict in him. Till then, “we were too in­no­cent to even sus­pect him of be­ing an ad­dict,” says his mother Leena, a banker and can­cer sur­vivor who de­scribed the knowl­edge of her son’s ad­dic­tion as “more shock­ing and heart­break­ing” than the time she was di­ag­nosed with the ter­mi­nal dis­ease. “My hus­band was my pil­lar. He said he had full faith that our boy would mend his ways,” she says about Nixon who im­me­di­ately dragged his son to Fr Joe Pereira of Kripa Foun­da­tion, the re­hab cen­tre in which D’Silva spent two months.

Clar­ity ar­rived on March 6, 2015, right in the mid­dle of a rave party in a friend’s house. “That’s when I re­alised I was los­ing the plot again and de­cided to quit overnight,” says D’Silva, a gym rat who took to his pas­sion for run­ning with a vengeance af­ter that epiphany. Soon, an­other overnight de­ci­sion saw D’Silva giv­ing up cig­a­rettes too af­ter a fam­ily friend, God­frey DeBrito, told him ca­su­ally that his pace would im­prove if he gave up smok­ing. “I used to smoke a packet and a half a day,” says D’Silva, who saw his run­ning time im­prove by 30 min­utes in the span of two years. Now ad­dicted to the run­ners’ high, he par­tic­i­pated in var­i­ous half marathons. Iron­man--a triathlon whose so­cial me­dia buzz be­gan to in­fect In­dia two years ago-then gave D’Silva a goal and soon, he was mak­ing trips to pub­lic and pri­vate swim­ming pools near Kan­di­vli.

Keen to fuel the ex­pen­sive dream of their son,the se­nior D’Sil­vas burnt their fixed de­posits into equip­ment. In re­turn, D’Silva would wake up at 5 am daily to run and even go on weekly cy­cling trips to Lon­avla un­der the care­ful watch of his friends Aditya or Neeraj. He now plans to pre­pare young ath­letes for Asian Games of 2022.

MAKEOVER: For Neil D’Silva, life is heady

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