There was no shortage of conversation on my first phone call with Arthi Nithi, a powerlifting champion who is an engineer by profession. What I found was a multitude of unique traits, painting a picture of woman who is anything but conventional.
The Indian SCENE: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Arthi Nithi: I am 22 years old and from Wayne, NJ. I currently am living in Atlanta, Georgia. I studied Industrial Engineering at Georgia Tech. I did Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dancing for twelve years (before college), and completed Arangetram.
IS: I know that you have a very unique interest, different from most people — especially from the women in our community. How did you first become interested in power lifting? What about it sparked your interest?
AN: When I came to college, I was just getting into fitness (going to the gym) and was looking for a supportive community. The Georgia Tech Barbell Club was my answer so I joined the club and a mentorship program within it. During the first training session, my mentor noticed my strength and suggested getting involved with power lifting. It took off from there—with my first competition at the end of my sophomore year to four national level competitions through my college years. I loved seeing how my body transformed and I always had higher goals to work towards. Overall, it has made me physically and mentally more confident. I always feel proud to show what women are capable of achieving in strength sports.
IS: You won second place in the World Classic Powerlifting Championships. How did that feel and what did you learn from the experience?
AN: I went into this experience not expecting much and just to do my best. And even the day of, I just wanted to have a positive experience where I hit most of my lifts. Placing second place and earning a world record squat were unexpected, but a great way to end the day. It was my first international competition and truly seeing how many countries were taking part showed me how diverse the sport was. I felt proud to represent my country and being of Indian descent.
IS: How do people within the Indian community respond when you tell them about your very unique ability and talent?
AN: Most responses I get nowadays are of awe or surprise that I’ve taken up such a sport — especially since there are not many Indians or even females. Some even feel inspired to go to the gym or get into fitness. On the flip side, I’ve also gotten comments that I should take it easy or not get too big. Most of these come from people completely unaware of strength sports and I’ve learned to filter what people say.
IS: I know that you have your Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Systems Engineering with a concentration in supply chain from Georgia Tech. Can you describe exactly what you do for your job?
AN: I currently work as an analyst at Procurement Advisors, a consulting firm that specializes in managing a company’s maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) and packaging supply needs. My role entails working with potential customers from when they learn about our program to showing a snapshot of the savings they can achieve until they fully commit to joining.
IS: What advice would you give to young Indian girls who are interested in pursuing engineering? Many hurdles exist in the industry.
AN: As females we may be outnumbered or have to work even harder for the same position, but if someone doesn’t open the doors then things won’t change for the generations to come. There are many support groups and networks for women in STEM that provide guidance. Additionally, passion can take you far, so never let someone say you are incapable of doing something.
IS: With limited time on your hands, and such a busy schedule, how do you take advantage of any free time?
AN: My friends sometimes joke about how I still make time for my social life. I think life is just about balance and try to be efficient with my time. My priorities are my career and personal relationships with my gym schedule and social life working around that. During competition prep more time is spent working out than socially and during off-season I like to take that time to catch up with people. In general, I love doing things around Atlanta — trying new coffee shops, checking out local events, or hiking.
IS: How do you continue to stay connected to the Indian community?
AN: Growing up my family would participate in local Tamil Kongu events and I attended an Indian philosophy and culture school (Vivekananda Vidyapith). Nowadays I celebrate holidays (Diwali and Pongal) and when I can I attend Tamil events in Atlanta. Many of my friends are Indian, and even with my non-Indian friends we enjoy eating Indian food and learning more about the culture.
IS: What aspects of our culture do you admire most? Which of those would you say you practice or take on as philosophy?
AN: I think I appreciate how close-knit families and communities are. Especially living in the US — this helps maintain culture and also at times gives us people to connect with easily.
IS: When prompted by a non-Indian about what specifically they should see in India, or foods that they should try, what do you tend to recommend?
AN: I think a lot of people think India is what they see in Bollywood movies and I like to remind people that the country is way more diverse. On the less glamorous side, people are familiar with the poverty and slums, but not all of India is like that. Many parts are developed and full of culture.
IS: As tribute to your family, what is the most important life lesson that they have taught you?
AN: More than outright teaching me, I think they’ve instilled a really good work ethic in me. They’ve always pushed me to be my best self. Also, my mom has always been a strong independent woman—a great role model for me and I think I push a lot of society’s boundaries because of her example.
Arthi’s Best List:
Favorite Bollywood movie: I don’t watch Bollywood movies and don’t really appreciate how colorist the whole industry is.
Favorite Indian holiday: Pongal –it’s the biggest holiday in my family and I have fond memories of food and celebrations.
Favorite Indian city: Chennai – part of my mom’s family is there and many of my memories from trips to India are playing with my cousins and visiting the beach.