As a story teller, I love my job. Of the many stories that I have been writing over the last couple of months, there have been a few that have personally tugged at my heart. And this one goes on top of the list :)
Call her what you may – an athlete, a triathlete, an entrepreneur, a doctor, a professor, and yes all the other tags also rests pretty on her shoulders – daughter, wife and sister. Long story short; meet Anu Vaidyanathan – a woman achiever and an all rounder.
Anu, the sportswoman
Anu first came into limelight when she became the first Indian woman to complete Ironman Triathlon by living and training in India. Triathlon is an endurance sport, which consists of three different sports, one that involves a 3.8 km swim, 180 km biking and 42.2 km run, but this was not a one off thing. Anu continued to better her records and became the first Indian to qualify for half-Ironman World Championships and the only Asian to compete in Ultraman distance events.
Anu’s liking for these different forms of sports started as a kid when she used to cycle 7 kms from her home in Basaveshwaranagar in Bangalore to her school in Malleshwaram. Her training in swimming happened during her summer vacations when she visited her native place in rural Tamil Nadu and swam in the pond near their house. She started running in college, when she was studying computer science – and running was her way to keep herself warm.
But the best part about all her achievements is that Anu is self-motivated and has done everything according to her own interests. There was never any ‘performance pressure’ on her to either excel or stand out in anyway.
“I had a very normal childhood and my parents were very hard working. I think I was a studious child, not competitive and I was not too bothered about ranks. But yes, I would be very proud of my studies, because I identified my talent to lie there,” says Anu. Therefore from choosing to study engineering, to getting her doctorate in computer science to becoming an athlete, Anu’s story is purely that of a free-willed and strong valued woman. But most of these things have happened in phases and Anu clarifies that she is no superwoman. “I did my PhD and sports at once. I have never professed to be excellent at multiple things at the same time, that’s kind of oxymoronish you know. To be excellent at something, you have to give it everything, nothing can really take away from whatever you are presently focused on,” explains Anu. However she admits to be very organized in whatever she does and that helps her achieve the maximum. “In a day I know what has to be done and I do it without complaining. You have to have a clear set of priorities on how you want to work and do that work well,” elucidates Anu.
Timex is associated with Anu in her capacity as a sportswoman and she considers it a matter of pride to have someone invest in you. “I only partner with those who I think bring some value and can take some value, so I don’t feel too stifled there,” she reasons. Anu thinks that if you as an individual want to do something, you can always find a way to do it and one need not always look outside for support. “I know I am incredibly privileged to be talking to you about this, but I feel if there is something you want to do, the athlete has to find a way. Rest all will follow later on – fame, money, support. What is more gratifying for me is when youngsters write to me and say they have taken up this sport and draw inspiration from me. It’s a great feeling.”
Ask Anu if she has plans to open academies or tell people about Triathlon and she says that is not something she is interested in. “I am already spreading awareness by just doing it myself. By participating and doing something that a person with a job can do, I am just demonstrating what people with a job and other responsibilities can do, that is the statement I am making. I am clear that I am not here to start a social revolution, because then you are setting yourself up for failure,” she asserts. However, she is more than willing to provide inputs if someone wants to spread awareness and actually train people for participating in Triathlon.
Anu, the entrepreneur
Anu is also the founder of PatNMarks, an intellectual property firm based in Bangalore. She started PatNMarks in 2001 and says things are going good on the business side. “Life is good, but yes the market is tough. One of the earlier challenges we had was to make people understand what IP was all about, but now inventors are smart and hard-working,” she says. PatNMarks has offices in Bangalore, Chennai and Austin and a team of 12 people run the show.We ask her if there are any similarities she sees between her two lives, and she says the work ethics in sports and PatNMarks are the same. There are also synergies in the way of thinking, sports is much more intellectual than it is made out to be, she says. “Atleast my kind of sport -- it is so much repetitive motion, which needs an element of discipline that you cannot find in too many places. Like in entrepreneurship, where you work for three years, then you can get funding and be happy for a while. In sports, its about managing your energy – its not the same thing, so you have to keep a consistent effort,” Anu explains. There are also similarities in the way people are handled, dealing with competition, how you react when you are in a bad spot and how you can dig yourself out of a hole.
PatNMarks is now embarking on a program, where they will talk to students and encourage them to file for IP. Anu’s choice of taking up IP as a profession also happened because both her parents have been in the field for a long period of time. Anu’s mother - Alamelu Vaidyanathan – was the second registered women patent attorney in India, who got one of her degrees after she had children. “I would say it was very path breaking for her generation. That kind of mindset was different. These women do stand out in their own way, because they have been brought up in a very different way than you and I have. That’s why they are also very hands off too, they do not believe children have to be excellent in studies or there is no life,” says Anu.
Anu handles business development and customer relations at PatNMarks and has a team of engineers and lawyers to assist her across the various offices. Most clientele of PatNMarks are Indians. As an entrepreneur, Anu says her goal is to consistently do what they are doing and do it effectively. She says her big bet is on startups as far as IP is concerned and her immediate goal is to work with very interesting people. They currently do not have any expansion plans, because in her line of work Anu says quality is more important than quantity, as they operate in a niche space.
Anu, the human being
Perhaps what made me identify with Anu was her insistence on being human and being normal. She does not seek any glory or doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal. Anu says she has as much respect for the mother of two who finds 25 minutes from her daily work to get on the treadmill, as much as she respects her most fierce competitor. We ask her what she thinks will impact our country more – entrepreneurship or sports, and this is what Anu had to say: “What will impact people most is probably safe roads and respecting women, more than entrepreneurship or sport. Entrepreneurship should be understood for what it is, because not everybody has the stomach for it. So if you have the stomach for business, you have the head to deliver a great product and you are able to turn into profit, then do it. But if you have tried something and it’s not working, you should always have a second plan. Because that is life and it is a long life. So if you are not an entrepreneur today, your life is not over,” she says very matter-of-factly.When at home Anu spends a lot of her time in reading, cooking and gardening. “My beliefs are very simple, I don’t think there is any free lunch. For a middle class kid like me, education was my meal ticket. I couldn’t go wrong with that. I couldn’t say, I will quit college and become a glamorous athlete, there was no such glamour to be found, you have to work for whatever you want to achieve,” advises the super achiever.
Another mantra that she lives by is to avoid negative things or negative people. One of her ways to do this is by not having TV at home, which she says has helped her concentrate and be very aware of what her body is telling her. “So if I am stressed or not enjoying my workout, I can stop that and do something else. All the blaring, noise and negativity that TV can bring into your house, doesn’t happen with me,” she suggests.
We thought this story would be incomplete without talking to Anu’s mother – who has been a source of inspiration and is also someone Anu has admitted to emulate a great deal. Mrs. Alamelu Vaidyanathan is very proud of her daughter and had this to say about her: “Anu always worked harder without being asked or pushed - I think that comes more from her father, who is very active on a daily basis. She is very clear with what she wants and what she doesnt want. I always wanted my daughter to be proud of her womanhood and still never defer to men, she has evolved into this even without my telling her to.” But Mrs. Vaidyanathan admits ignorance as far as her sporting choice is concerned, and insists they had no role to play there. “That is something entirely her own effort, as parents we could not guide her or give her security in this pursuit. I had no idea about sports at all and it took us years to realize what she has achieved and what an endurance athlete actually is,” says the proud mother.