They routinely face sexist attitudes and discrimination as they try to make a mark. Yet, female athletes in India and the world over strive for excellence, undaunted by the challenges and struggles.
Based on her own experiences, triathlete Anu Vaidyanathan has now penned a book — ‘Anywhere But Home: Adventures in Endurance’ — where she narrates the story of how she never gave up, the challenges she could overcome and the importance of education among other things.
“I faced a lot of hurdles. There have been several issues that perhaps emanated from the notion that sports is masculine. I had coaches telling me to get married. They thought the right place for a woman is to get married and have a family,” Vaidyanathan said.
“You cannot remove the political aspect out of it. You cannot remove the fact that you have to navigate your circumstances to deal with notions of masculinity. I had to overcome that. There is no way to remove that and just talk about the sport alone. My book is trying to do just that. It is telling what had factually happened,” she said.
She is the first Indian triathlete to compete in the Ironman and the first Asian to complete Ultraman Canada triathlon — a punishing 10-km swim, a 420-km bike ride and an 84.4-km run in succession over three days.
Vaidyanathan cited eve-teasing as one of the problems she faced during her workouts.
“I would get up very early and be on the road. I had people following me around on moped and making unpleasant comments. These comments showed their narrow-mindedness than anything else,” she said.
Commenting on the challenges faced in sports, she said: “Social barriers are there for everybody. No matter where you are born or trained. Be it in urban India or in a rural setting, the levels of challenge are about the same. The first level is same for both men and women. We have the same air quality and traffic, roads, etc.”
The 34-year-old triathlete has a PhD in electrical engineering which she completed in just 26 months from the University of Canterbury at Christchurch, New Zealand, and she feels that education has been her main strength.
“Education has been important because my sport is not a mainstream one. There isn’t a lot of money associated with it. My main profession as a lecturer has been my enabler beyond whatever I could pull off as a young person. My education was always my main ticket,” Vaidyanathan said.
“Sport is not a profession for me. It is one of the many things that I have done,” she added. And for her multifarious interests and achievements, Vaidyanathan is a source of inspiration for many.
“I have always idealised people who have done multiple things. For me, the PhD scholarship was the enabler to get trained better. I took that as a privilege. I thought if I am able to pull it off, I should,” she said, adding, “I have always loved academics; so there was no question about difficulty. I loved my books as much as I loved my sport.”
“I had this thing in my mind when I started writing the book. Most of the autobiographies are only about the sport. This one is a very episodic memoir that’s 80 per cent about the sport. It’s also kind of bringing to light that I have multiple pursuits,” Vaidyanathan said.