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Alok Mihani’s first solo flight was in early 2012. Just 26 then, he was feeling light as a feather having quit his first job. He had a few weeks free before he had to report for his next job at SAP Labs in Bengaluru. He drove an hour out of Pune to Kamshet and enrolled in a beginner’s course in paragliding. The first flight felt so good that he was back the next weekend and spent a week completing all the courses he needed to get his paragliding pilot’s license.

A few days later, Mihani moved to Bengaluru and started work at SAP Labs. Seven years later, the 33-year-old associate development architect’s skills with coding and cracking tough problems are as well known among his colleagues and bosses as his ability, strapped to a paraglider, to take-off from and land in hills most people would be reticent to tread on foot.

This wasn’t the case when he started. For almost two years, Mihani didn’t discuss his love for paragliding with colleagues. “I wasn’t sure how they would react so I kept quiet. I wanted to participate in competitions, so I opened up about it slowly as I didn’t want people asking questions about my leave," says Mihani.

“Dates for paragliding competitions are out six to eight months in advance, and I plan major competitions around my work. As for ground handling and flying practice, I head to Panchgani near Pune on most weekends," he says.

Mental game

Mihani gets about 200 hours of flight time annually and this has a profound impact on his work and mental well-being. “Paragliding competitions are a mental game; it’s all about making good decisions. You have to be able to process a lot of information and come up with best flying line that works for that day," he says. “Approaching work the same way makes keeps every day interesting and fun," says Mihani, who competed at the German Open in May.

Mihani says paragliding taught him useful skills from risk assessment to efficiency, which help him in his job at SAP Labs. “My understanding of risk to reward ratio has developed a lot through paragliding: what is the reward corresponding to the risk I need to take is what I have primarily brought into work. I am constantly learning to take calculated risks in order to make improvements in any project," says Mihani who does yoga and participates in endurance sports as well.

Flying solo

Though paragliding is a solo sport that requires the pilot to analyse and review, qualities held in high regard in a workplace, people also fly in groups.

“Everyone has a way of executing a task and their own flight plans. The trick is to use each other to help ourselves. We can be more efficient if we realize that the presence of someone in a team is always going to help us do more. It is the same at work… to bring in synergies from different individuals so that we can use each other to grow," he says.

Every flight requires preparation and one has to be on the lookout for clues that trees, wind direction, cloud formations or birds provide. One also needs to know the equipment well and be aware of the landscape and weather.

“Any person in the adventure sport will tell how important it is to have the right preparation. You cannot control anything but your own decisions. Through good observation, these decisions become easy. If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail. This is a direct reflection of how I prepare for any new project at work," the electronics and telecommunications engineer says.

Workplace dynamics

Mihani says his colleagues, bosses and the organizational culture at SAP Labs has helped his pursuit of paragliding success.

“I have been blessed with supportive colleagues and friends. They are interested in my new experiences," he says. “My passion for sport is respected and encouraged by the organisation." His boss and peers were supportive when broke his heel while flying in Bir in 2018 due to a take-off error.

“My boss allowed me to focus on my recovery and even after I re-joined work, he never discouraged me from returning to the sport. He has been mentor at work and what I learn from him I apply to my sport as well." But the jokes about his sunburnt nose never stop.

Workplace Champions looks at how employees who excel at sports, and perform competitively, also manage their day jobs.

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