The Impossible Body

How Kamaldip Singh Kahma turned his scrawny frame of 39 kilos as a college boy to become body beautiful. And he just became the first Indian to win bronze for Australia at the World Fitness European Championship. By Indira Laisram

Kamaldip Singh Kahma was scrawny and weighed only 39 kilos when he was in his second year of college – far too small and thin to get noticed by anyone. “I used to get teased a lot,” he says of his growing up days in Nawanshahr, Punjab. This certainly dented his confidence especially living in a society that prides itself on being healthy and fat. In India, the phrase “khate pite ghar ke” (belonging to a well-fed family) is a matter of pride. So in his bid to find an identity, Kahma enrolled in a gym with the hope that a few pounds of muscle would help him turn things around.
The year was 1999 and there were hardly any gyms in his hometown but fortunately he found one where he had to travel a few kilometres every day. “I thought going to the gym and using all the machines would shape up my body.”
But it was an agonizing start. The first day he stepped into the gym, he could not lift a 6-7 kg weight as he was weak. Kahma vividly recalls few fellows at the gym laughing at him. Unable to tolerate their jeer he decided to quit, walked up to the coach and asked for a refund of the fees. The coach Gurinder Singh Bansal told him he had no problem returning the paltry sum but he also posed him a question: “Why don’t you prove them wrong? I am with you, do something to show them.” It would be a question that would change Kahma’s life, dramatically.
Coach Bansal, who Kahma looks up to this day, offered to train him. For a start, he changed his timings. For the next eight months, Kahma didn’t know anything else except training and began making steady gains. “I noticed my muscle build up and I gained seven kilos.”
It was also during his time in the gym that Kahma thought he might have a knack for – bodybuilding, but was of course unsure. Around that time, a competition was coming up at the district level and when Bansal actually asked Kahma to take part, he thought it was a joke. “All these people used to make fun of me, now you are making fun,” Kahma told Bansal. But the latter believed Kahma was shaping up well with the potential to become a good body builder.
Kahma eventually competed in the under-60 kg category. He was ranked 7 among 35 participants and went back home with a prize for making it to the top 10. It was his first trophy. And that is when something really changed. His training became an obsession. He was serious about improving and making it big. He wanted to know what his weak points were in the competition and when he was told that he had to work on his leg muscles, he started training on them.
Exactly three months later, Kahma took part in another district level competition and bagged the first prize. “That was an unbelievable moment for me. It was December 2000.” Supported by his family, he trained harder. He had become the body he wanted to have.
In 2001, Kahma went on to win in his weight category and the overall competition at university. He became Mr Nawanshahr Overall. This success landed him with a job as a coach in a gym. “They paid me Rs 3,500 a month which was a lot for me at that time for a student. I was in my second year of graduation and after class I would go and teach. It worked out well for me.” But what he also recalls is that the same fellows who once laughed at him now came to enrol wanting to be trained by him. It was a worthy vindication but Kahma was happy to train them.
In 2003, Kahma opened his gym with a bit of help from his parents and some loan from the bank. At the same time, he opened a food supplement store. His gym attracted people from even far-away places. He ran it for three years till 2006 when his wife decided to move to Australia to study her Masters in Teaching. Kahma thought this was also a good opportunity for him as he could develop his potential to the fullest in an advanced country. He donated his instruments to the local government body, the Panchayat, so local youths could benefit from them.
Kahma arrived in Australia in 2007. Life in the initial years of settling in was full of struggle, he candidly admits. “From 2007 to 2011, I did not do any body building. It was the years of struggling associated with the life of a student. I had to first settle down.” But in 2011 when the couple got their permanent residency, he got back into his game and immersed himself in training.
That very next year in 2012, he won the Mr Victoria title (Class III) from among 110 competitors and was the runners up in the Mr Australia contest in the under 74 kg Class III category. The Mr Australia bodybuilding contest for men and women is organised by NABBA/WFF (National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association and World Fitness Federation) Australia. It also incorporates fitness, figure, bikini and sports model competitions. Since 2007, the Australian Championships has included both NABBA bodybuilding classes for men and women and athletic bodybuilding classes under the World Fitness Federation (WFF).
The next year Kahma took a break. “Rest is very important,” he says. “Your body is like a spring, if you keep pressing it is bound to be loose and it will stop forming muscles. Exercise, however, must be continued; rest means not to compete but to continue with exercises. There are two types of exercises in body building – off season and on season, the difference being during on season the diet, sleep pattern, etc. is totally different and includes a lot of rigour. But on off season we just train our body, and our diet then requires a bit of fat, carbohydrates and proteins. So the main motive of the exercise then is to grow the body muscles.” In a week he was exercising four-five times. 2014 was a rest year too but towards the end he started competing.
By 2015, Kahma had gained well in size and stature. He went on to win five competitions back to back this year – Mr Victoria, Mr Australia, Mr International, Mr Southern Hemisphere and then the bronze title or the second runner up for Australia at the WFF European Championship held on July 4 in Italy. He was the top three at the WFF Peninsula Classic Performance division.
“I won the bronze under the Fitness open category. There are three categories – professional, fitness and extreme category. I took part in fitness category as it was my first international debut. I was representing Australia for the first time. The professional category belongs to those who have already won in the other categories,” explains Kahma. It has been said Kahma looked his best ever in a very tough line up.
Through this win, Kahma created history by becoming the first Indian to represent Australia and winning bronze. He has done the Indian community and Australia proud. “Australia has been participating in this competition for 65 years but I am the first Indian who participated and won,” says a happy Kahma, who is now revelling in all the congratulatory and sponsorship offers coming his way now,” he says, adding, “In body building there is name and prestige but less cash prize.”
Asked how he trained for these massive wins, Kahma says, “Sixty-five percent is diet control. Before any major competition I allow myself at least a 28-weeks preparation where there is no intake of carbs and sugar but only protein and green veggies,” adding, “I do crave for aloo parathas and desi ghee but control is very important. That is the hardest part of life that is why not everybody can become a body builder. It is this control that makes one a champion.”
When not competing, Kahma is busy running his gym Kahma 24X7 at Hoppers Crossing which has about 1500 members, some of whom he provides personal training to. In 2012, he also opened his supplement stores by the name of Kahma Bodyboosters in Laverton, Melton and Hoppers Crossing.
Kahma is very grateful for the success he has achieved in Australia. “Australia promoted me and it is a very fair country. I have been treated well and given my due position based on my merit and I got what I deserved. ” He also loves the weather and thinks in terms of diet everything is readily available – such as fine chicken breast, broccoli, fish fillets, etc., when compared to India.
Kahma says his biggest support system is his family especially his wife and mother. “Support from your partner is the most important, I have 101 percent support, without it you can’t do anything. My mom is with me too. All my food is prepared by her. My wife helps me in my business as a manager after leaving her job as a primary school teacher.”
Building muscles is an occupational necessity for Kahma – but one that gives not just him but everyone around him including the community and the country a lot of pride.