Book review: Anywhere but home

Let me begin by quoting directly from the back cover of Anywhere But Home. Anu Vaidyanathan is the first Asian woman to complete the Ultraman Canada: a punishing 10-km swim, a 420-km bike ride and 84.4-km run.

If that does not impress, what does?

Anu, I discovered, was born in the same year as me. Anu is also a South Indian like me. Nerdy -well, like I used to be at least for the first half of my life. And the resemblances end there. Anu takes us through her arduous journey as she chose unconventional paths, trained under conditions where few dared to (in India), and discovered her great love for endurance training, outdoors and setting difficult physical challenges and milestones for herself.

Hat’s off to her for the grit and determination. I, for one, have immense regard for the sheer fact that I would have considered such feats impossible, and not dreamed of such goals in a million years. Of course, such extreme sport is really not for everyone. So what motivated Anu?

She writes about her own unique journey, stumbling along life, trying to make sense of it, sometimes trying to fit in, but for the most part, finding comfort in talking to trees over talking to people. A bit hard to relate to for an extrovert like myself, who can talk endlessly even to strangers. But I have run in the outdoors (for very short durations, let me confess), and I could imagine very well how running in beautiful locations of the United States and New Zealand must have been for Anu, after running on Bangalore roads during her training in India.

It brings to light also how we, in India, are not that advanced in training for sports. As a third world country, it perhaps takes a while to make this a top priority, although much has improved in the past two decades. So Anu does train a lot easier in the United States and New Zealand, where she has an opportunity for clean facilities and finds groups of triathletes quite easily.

She has funny tales about judgy relatives and the commonfolk, who cannot fathom the desire of a ‘good Iyer girl’ (A community of south Indians) to take on such tremendous physical strain and goals. However, she is lucky in having a most supportive family, one that gives her complete trust and freedom in choosing her career, her goals and when and whether she wants to get married. That is a lot, for a typical Indian family.

Anu also traces her career graph, pursuing her Masters successfully in the US and then her PhD, but giving up without finishing after 6 years, starting her own venture together with her brother and struggling through the initial years, going back to finish the PhD in New Zealand, grappling with studies and training and running her business – 3 things, just like the triathlon itself. She has funny names for her bikes, she’s often struggling financially to make things work and be able to travel around the world to compete in tournaments she fancies.

A self made woman with an inspiring story to tell. Wait, there is also a fairy tale ending! She meets her husband back in India at Ropar, teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar.

I started running again after reading this book. But I’ll write a post about my running experiences later. Read the book! I write below a few lovely quotes I liked from the book:

I read somewhere how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong…but to feel strong” – Chris McCandless in John Krakauer’s Into the Wild

‘Traveller, there are no paths. Paths are made by walking.” -an Australian Aboriginal saying

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary

Come on people -dream big, dream small – but dream certainly. Nothing should stand a chance between you and your dreams.