A lot of you know Raj, given he is one of our coaches, but you likely have not met his wife Richa.
Marti and I had the opportunity to go to Raj & Richa’s for dinner, and they made authentic Indian food! It was amazing, and the conversation was even better, going far beyond news, weather and sports!
We kicked things off with Richa telling about her childhood experience when her family immigrated from India to Overland Park, Kansas.
When I asked her why they moved, she said, “my father wanted to provide our family a better life that gave females more education and career opportunities than were available in India”. Her father left behind a promising career as a civil engineer to move to the United States with his sights set on a better life for his family. Richa’s family moved in with her aunt’s family where they lived for a little over a year, giving her parents time to establish their new life and start new careers.
Richa was 12 years old when they moved. Think about being a new kid, at a new school, in a foreign country, and not fully understanding the language and culture?
As you can imagine, she had to endure some ridicule for being “different” than everyone else, but it wasn’t too long before Richa started making friends, coming out of her shell, letting her personality shine through, and embracing her background while immersing herself in her new life in the U.S.
Richa also watched her mom work retail jobs until she eventually found a career in corporate training for a national financial services company where she continues to work today. Meanwhile, her dad went back to school to earn his MBA and found his calling as a financial planner.
Through the sacrifices and hard work her parents endured to move to the U.S. and build their new life, Richa learned the value of hard work and education. As soon as she could, Richa started working to earn her own money while also going to school full time. She was a 4.0 student and eventually earned a full academic scholarship to University of Kansas (KU) where she graduated with a degree in Economics and Marketing.
Raj had a little easier path, he was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. His mother and father immigrated to the U.S. before Raj was born, and both ended up in education. Once Raj and his sisters were old enough to be in school full time, his mother decided to start a career as a Montesorri teacher. She had a love for teaching young children and this also allowed her to have a similar schedule as her kids and be home with them when they weren’t in school.
His father began his professional life in the U.S as a materials scientist at McDonnell Douglas where he worked for several years before changing careers to education and becoming a Professor of Metallurgy at Washington University. Raj’s parents chose to enroll him in private school to provide him what they considered to be the best education possible to put him on the path to attend a good college and eventually a career in either medicine or engineering. Raj thought this was what he wanted as well.
It took Raj a little over a year of working after he graduated before he realized he did not like his original career choice!
He decided to go back to school to earn his MBA in Marketing Strategy from the same school he earned his undergraduate degree from, Washington University.
Both Raj and Richa are very smart, well-educated people. Richa has found her niche in the biotech industry working in rare diseases, and Raj has found his calling as a coach at SISU while working at Best Buy Corporate as a side hustle.
They did not meet until Raj was in grad school at Washington University. As the story goes, they met one night in a bar; each out with different friend groups. Raj was smitten from the start, but Richa had a boyfriend at the time. Raj is always the quintessential gentleman, intentionally staying as close as he could to Richa without stepping over a line, waiting for her to be single. It took almost two years of friendship before Raj snuck in the first kiss!
They eventually got married in a traditional Hindu Indian wedding celebration that lasted for a whole week! Raj even rode in on a white horse wearing traditional Indian clothing. Hindu culture remains central in their lives.
After grad school, they moved to Minnesota driven by career choices. As they settled into their new life in Minnesota, they got to experience the euphoric feelings of pregnancy and starting a family. Those feelings quickly turned to anxiety as Riya came into the world a little early weighing just under 5lbs. Riya was born without a heart valve along with a hole in her heart that required open heart surgery when she was only a few days old, weighing 4lbs 7ounces! Next time you are in the gym, grab a 5lb plate and look at how small it is for some perspective.
This obviously was a very stressful situation. However, Raj remained incredibly calm and steady through it all. His words, “I trusted the doctors, and I was not going to worry until they told me I had something to worry about.” Raj remained even-keeled, establishing a calm environment as the family dealt with the open heart surgery of their baby Riya.
Riya has had 2 more open heart surgerys since birth and is due for one more in the next year or two. As she grows, so does her heart, and the valve needs to be replaced to keep up with her. They both seem to take things in stride with a very peaceful perspective, leaning into their Hindu faith for support.
Embracing their family’s Indian heritage, Riya, now 14 years old, spends her Saturdays at an Indian Cultural School in St. Paul where she learns Hindi and is engulfed in Indian culture. She has been going there for 9 years.
The most enjoyable part of spending time with Raj and Richa was observing them interacting with each other as we discussed childhood, culture and religion. I find the differences in people’s background and culture fascinating. At the same time, I am realizing that we all experience the same emotions with our own personal life experiences. My conclusion is that we are all more similar than we are different. Our experiences are unique, but our human emotions are all the same.
All that said, two big things jumped out at me. First, Richa is not the type to jump in the pool first! She is for sure going to observe a situation before “risking” being uncomfortable or failing. As an example, Richa showed signs of wanting to start CrossFit but thought it was too much for her so would only go if Raj or another coach she knew well was coaching. Then COVID hit and the gyms shut down. Raj took this chance to get her more comfortable with CrossFit movements by coaching her in their home gym.
It was not long before she started looking forward to workouts, mostly the strength component, and was comfortable diving in! Now, you will see her running around the gym with her lifters, focused on fast elbows while doing power cleans! A once risk-averse Richa was coming out of her shell, feeling empowered by CrossFit.
She signed up for the SISU Bombshell Bash this past year; something she never could have imagined doing. CrossFit is hard, it’s complicated at times, and people would be WATCHING! Perhaps she had some left over fears from her childhood of looking out of place and being judged. She took her training extremely seriously and ended up with eight PR’s prior to the actual event! She drank the SISU kool aid and CrossFit is now part of her everyday routine. Our purpose at SISU is “forging resilient humans”, and we made strides with Richa!
Of course Raj is happy! With Richa embracing all things CrossFit, Raj is able to spend more on NoBull gear guilt free!
The second thing that jumped out at me was that Raj has really his priorities straight, and family comes first. I have always viewed Raj as a kind person, always the first one to help out around the gym for competitions, coaching etc. He is a team player within SISU, and he exudes our core value of “Passion for People and Community”. Seeing them together that night, though, I saw the same consistent kindness toward his family. I was really touched and walked away that night looking for ways to up my game at home!
Raj honors his wife, and his family is his highest priority.
Hanging out with them for dinner that night made me reflect about the many times we stay quiet, not saying hello to the person next to us, missing out on the richness of relationships. There are multiple reasons why we stay quiet, my guess is fear of rejection, bias, etc.
I want to challenge everyone to reach out to the person you see every day, the one you say hi to but really don’t know. Strike up a conversation and get to know them a little deeper. Stand in a different place in the gym next time you workout. Break out of your habits, get a little uncomfortable.
I promise you will feel amazing afterward!!! Afterall, we are all more similar than we are different.
“Nothing changes if nothing changes”