It was Deviana Gupta’s determination and resilience that got her back on the feet after a freak accident in 2016 resulted in a severely injured left ankle. The founder and chief executive officer of designer swimwear brand Salt Skin was 18 years old and weighed 110kg then. Her doctor warned that she wouldn’t be able to walk properly again if she didn’t manage her weight. “I realized that the first step to happiness was to be healthy. The broken ankle didn’t leave me many workout options besides swimming. I already liked swimming, so as soon as I could, I got into the pool and dedicatedly swam my way back to health one lap at a time," says the 31-year-old who used to be in the school swimming team. “Now, swimming 100 laps is pretty normal. Apart from endurance, swimming has brought discipline and calmness to my life," adds Gupta, who launched Salt Skin in 2017.
An ardent student of fashion, Gupta worked in the UK and Italy with brands like Cavalli (assistant product developer for jewellery) and WWG Fashions (assistant fashion buyer), and then returned to India to start her own venture. For Salt Skin, she combined her love and experience in the fashion industry. “My works bring these two worlds together. Without such a personal experience, no designer can bring the right balance of style, comfort and function, and it is my life’s purpose to now make a difference in the lives of others my making them feel positive and confident," says Gupta, who, besides swimming, also enjoys boxing and her time in the gym.
Gupta starts her day early with a workout as it helps her stay more productive at work. “I start my mornings with a boxing session, as it begins my day on a high note and keeps my energy levels high throughout the day. At the end of the day, a short swim helps me unwind," says Gupta, adding, “It is tempting to skip workouts when bogged down with work, but I’ve found that keeping your exercise on schedule gives you the energy to work harder for longer, without burning out."
Gupta understands the importance of leading an active life, and the impact is has on work. “Working out is a great stress buster. When I am boxing I feel like I can release all the pent-up tension in a positive way, and when I am swimming I can focus my thoughts and reassess all tough situations. It brings great clarity to the mind. I am a better version of myself because of the balance that fitness brings to my life."
Drawing on her own experiences, Gupta has realized that “a healthy workforce is happy and motivated", and happier people are more innovative than individuals who are lazy and stressed.
“We don’t always talk work at office. We share other parts of our lives, including fitness milestones, and encourage each other to work towards our personal health goals," explains Gupta.
The Salt Skin team is active even while in office. Instead of being hunched over their desks all the time, they take their meetings outdoors when possible, and discuss strategies and plan over a brisk walk. “It’s amazing what the outdoors can do to spur innovation and ideas," says Gupta. She also organizes healthy vegetarian lunch and snacks for her team during working hours.
Games they play
Apart from the positive impact that swimming and boxing have had on Gupta, the two sports have also imparted important leaderships lessons. With the help of boxing, Gupta has learned how to take charge of situations and deal with them with the right intensity. “The outcome you get is directly proportional to the energy you put into a situation, and this is as true in a contact sport as it is at work and other aspects of life," she explains. Swimming, on the other hand, helps her balance her thoughts and find an internal rhythm. “There is a grace and beauty in your movements when you learn to balance yourself, and this radiates into other aspects of your being. All this culminates into better leadership," she adds.
Another important learning for Gupta came when she was struggling to achieve her target of 100 laps of swimming. “It eluded me for a long time. I was focused on speed. But I was aiming for endurance. One day, when I was not even consciously trying to count and push myself, I enjoyed my workout and slipped out of the pool, and to my complete surprise, my swim buddy told me she had been counting my laps, and I had hit 100," she recalls. That day she learnt the value of patience and never forgets it whether at work or in the gym or at the pool.
Fit Boss is a series in which startup founders talk about how sports activities help them stay more productive in and outside office.
Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.
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