Interview with Anu Vaidyanathan

In our society, academics have always been preferred over sports. For example, if you ask the child next door who or what ‘Ironman’ is? They will reply ‘The superhero’. Today at your Adda we have someone who is the ONLY Indian (male or female) to qualify for the Half Ironman World Championships and the first Asian (male or female) to compete and finish Ultraman, a three day triathlon stage race comprising a 10K swim, 420K bike ride and an 84.4K run. Presenting to you an interview with the amazing Anu Vaidyanathan who is an INK fellow 2012.

Q. It would be great if you tell us what is  triathlon and what does a triathlete do?

The Ironman is a single-day triathlon with a 3.8Km swim, 180Km bike ride and 42.2Km run done in that order, back to back. Ultraman is a three-day stage race, with a 12 hour cutoff each day. It has a 10K swim, 150K bike on the first day. 270K bike on the second day and an 84.4km run on day 3. Ultraman is a rite of passage, more than a race 😉 A triathlete is a total pain in the a$$ to live with, if you have no discipline. I am super-organized and super-ambitious about everything, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry (we have a lady help us around the house but only for 3 hours of the week – the rest we do on our own).

Q. Anu, you finished 6th at Ultraman and you are first Indian to qualifiy for the Half Ironman 70.3 Clearwater World Championship. What kind of challenges you had to face to come this far and how did you tackle them? 

I faced plenty of challenges – sexist coaches, a complete lack of infrastructure for a sport that demands a great relationship with the outdoors, call-center vehicles knocking me over, unheated pools, a lack of physiotherapists for sustaining an injury-free path through a very debilitating sport and a lack of sustainable sponsorship for such a hard sport.

I think that optimism is not a choice, its my breathing space. I am not a child and as an adult, I am aware that I am accountable to myself for my dreams. I feel that its only too easy to be angry and blame the whole world for everything that is wrong with it. Frankly, I never got into the sport for money – if I did, I should be playing tennis or golf! I got into this sport because it’s the hardest thing I had to learn, it was the challenge that interested me (and still does). Money is there for us to grab at all stages in life, no matter what our social status. Once you have a basic education, I think money is always there to be made. The issue is, money is a jealous master. Can money buy us health or happiness? Or can it make us better Wives/husbands/daughters/sons? I think money was and always will be the last thing on my mind. That being said, I do realize that I am speaking from a position of incredible advantage or privilege however, it is something more than money that drives the best out there. I have seen this over and over again in my life. Endurance athletics is the hardest way to make money and totally a stupid way. =)

Q. How supportive was your family when you opted for this kind of sport?

My parents have extended me unconditional love and support – truly they never differentiated between my brother and me. My mom had to really fight for access to basic education in a very patriarchical society – her determination got her to become the second registered woman patent attorney in all of India. My father worked incredibly hard for his own education since age 16. My husband is my latest role-model – he was the earliest people from Nangal, Punjab to get to IIT Delhi. I am surrounded by an amazing support system that inspires me every day and all of them are from rural India where dreams seem to be food for thought?

Q. What is PatNMarks? What are the various services provided by PatNMarks? 

PatNMarks is an Intellectual Property consulting firm working with a range of clients.  Our core services include early stage conceptualization, budgeting, drafting strategy and filing for Intellectual Property. We work across all aspects of IP including filing and prosecuting Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Designs, Training and Prior-Art searches. Its an end-to-end service driven by an ethic of providing great professional service for sustainable innovation and conversion of that innovation into tradable intellectual property. IP is a very industry-specific competitive advantage, which has to be balanced well across the priorities of open innovation and converting the effort into a bargaining tool, to create value in up and coming companies.

75% of our clientele is young and upcoming inventors and more than 95% is Indian. We have made a conscious decision to stay away from Outsourcing work from day 1 and really invest our chips in inventors and scientists that are coming out of India.

Q. A Triathlete, an entrepreneur, a visiting professor of intellectual property; playing so many roles must be indeed tough. How do you manage your time?

To be very honest, I manage like every woman that has to work manages. I think my life is pretty easy sometimes. I don’t have to ride a hero bicycle for 20km to get to college or access to basic facilities. I have seen some amazing girls in the heart of TamilNadu who seem to do this almost every day – what is my difficulty compared to their daily struggle for sustenance? =) I respect the clock very much. I also look for things that bring me joy, everyday. Its only hard if I make it that way for myself. Whenever I am training hard for a race, I step back on my expectations on work. When I am working hard on a work-deadline, I keep the pressure off on the exercise. Our lives are getting incredibly complicated with dozens of tools to take our precious attention away – being very competitive across disciplines gives me a lot of perspective on personal excellence and how to maximize a sense of satisfaction. I am almost always happy with what I have and when I get more than I expect out of a day, that’s a bonus!

Q.  Who do you admire the most?

I admire people that have achieved something (stated or unstated, personal or public) and still have the empathy to be excellent, approachable human beings. Patience and a real drive to make a difference in the lives of people inspires me to no end. I thought I had only seen that in children so far but, I can tell you that my recent attendance at INK has changed my mind – I am amongst a new league of dreamers, shakers and doers.

Q. If not a Triahlete, which sport it would be?


Q. Did you always dream of becoming a sports person?

Not really – it just happened due to a series of serendipitous events. I am an existentialist – I live entirely in the present, when living well. Five year plans are a waste of time.There was no single moment that lead me to sport, to be honest. I like new challenges and exploring uncharted islands. I think triathlon is a little like that. I had no clue what it would involve, I just trained a lot and worked incredibly hardhat it. I knew from early on that it was a very tough sport and I suppose in a small way, that drew me. I’m an introverted person and a loner. I like being alone for long stretches of time and this sport demanded what I loved most – solitude. Didn’t care about prizes or recognition for several years and I still don’t. However, it does feel good that persistence is appreciated, I am a pretty average human being, and I thrive on happiness and positive feedback. I never considered the other disciplines; maybe I have a bit of ADD 🙂 I need difficult goals to wake me up, day after day.

Q. Share with us your opinions on the current scenario of Indian sports.

The current scenario for Indian sports is supposedly better than before but not really! Every day I realize that one needs the backing of a very proactive sporting organization or a coach or a godfather to be a sportsperson. Companies are still very shy of supporting upcoming athletes with cash bonuses for travel, training or racing over a meaningful period of development. There are a couple of flashes in the pan under Corporate Social Responsibility or being inspired but very few companies are vested in the athlete’s development in the long term.

Additionally the media is frenzied over the highest earning players, which is a little sad. Our showing at the Olympics has improved so, I am hopeful that perhaps that puts a focus on sports other than cricket or tennis. That being said, I still believe we thrive on hero-worship more than we need to – the same athletes we have seen for the past decade and a half, who have figured out a way to work the publicity and the system seem to survive better – hopefully this will change. We need a whole bandwidth of athletes and sports, not just one or two or six sports. Endurance athletics of course has a long way to go – both culturally and otherwise. Even so, I am an optimist as I have met a couple of amazing supporters and sponsors who have gotten me started and hope to continue in the sport for as long as I can.

One Reply to “Interview with Anu Vaidyanathan”

  1. One of the most inspirational interviews I have read here.
    Thoroughly loved every word of what she said and yet she is so humble.
    Inspiring and worth emulating!

    Thank you BlogAdda and the people who interviewed Anu.

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