A morning filled with love for the horses, school during the day and fishing or cycling the heavy and sturdy black Atlas cycle afterschool. Some weekends my father would take us to the dam where we will either fish or swim nonstop. Other weekends he will take us to the Commando Course where BSF soldiers would train in jungle terrain. We were also lucky to grow up testing fire arms and live ammunition. The firing range was accessible in most places of posting and by the time I was 10 years old I was well trained to fire, clean and assemble most of firearms in BSF armory.
We moved between Delhi, Bandipura, Hazaribagh, Jallandar, Hoshiarpur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Srinagar, Tekanpur (again), Warrangal, Hyderabad, Shillong, Guwahati and back to Delhi where I studied Law at the University of Delhi.
While my mother wanted us to have a more stable childhood living in a metro with a place in good school, my father called it the “University of Life” and insisted that the family stayed together. Many years later I realized that even my father wanted the best for us, he just couldn’t afford it. Without a posting in a metro a paramilitary officer, with salaries just affording basic lifestyle, cannot afford private accommodation and hostel schooling for the children.
In Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, I would often end up tagging along my father, out of necessity to being dropped to school or college or being picked up, into paramilitary operations. There were times that I couldn’t be sure if I will see my father again because it was clear that anyone who had a job like my father could only leave the valley in a bag. During 1991-1992 I went to Kendriya Vidyalaya Badami Bagh Cantt., Srinagar. At the entrance of the BB Cantt., all passengers had to disembark, including school children, for security check. At the gate often, we would be surpassed by siren blowing semi damaged Army trucks and armored vehicles carrying soldiers that were wounded or dead. I clearly remember that day when one of the Army Nissan trucks was loaded with bleeding bodies and the driver was doing his best to get the soldiers to the military hospital despite he himself having blood all over his face and arms. I don’t know if the driver was injured but it looked like that they had just returned from hell. From the high elevations of BSF camp we could see tracer rounds being exchanged and explosions in Pompura and Pulwama.
Dealing with ambiguity and living with uncertainty had become our daily lives. It was really hard to maintain friendships. Friendships were short lived. It was impossible to be a favorite of a teacher at school. Joining a new school and new class was hard. Making new friendships was hard. Finding a life in a new place was just as hard. But this made us stronger. We learnt to deal with uncertain times. We learnt to socialize and make new friends really fast. We had the chance to see and live in so many parts of India. We had the chance to experience India’s cultural diversity. And for this I am really thankful to my parents who gave me the chance to live my childhood so well.
What inspired you to take up this career path?
I am currently working as Intellectual Property Director, with responsibility for Asia Pacific and China markets, in Louis Vuitton based out of Hong Kong. I am a practicing Hong Kong Solicitor and an Indian lawyer. I have an Executive MBA from Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario. I am intellectual property valuation analyst. I lead a diverse and cross-cultural team of experts and lawyers in the region. Before Hong Kong I was based in Beijing and I worked for Daimler AG. I met my wife, Theresa Vaid, while she was working as an in-flight crew in Dragon Airlines in Hong Kong. I moved to Hong Kong because of my wife. We are now blessed with two boys 8 years and 4 years old.
What inspired you to participate in the Enduroman Triathlon race?
A friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood had suggested this race to me when I was not even swimming or biking. And I told him that lets hold off the decision because I can’t swim 50mtrs forget swimming the English Channel. In 2018 we relayed the Enduroman Arch 2 Arc race. And last year after finishing the race I consulted my wife regarding attempting it alone. Theresa had also crewed me in the Enduroman relay. She was of the firm opinion that I should try a solo attempt. And hence I did it in 2019. It’s known as the longest point to point triathlon. It’s tough and brutal. It’s a mean course because its fully reliant on the elements and pure grit. This race questions the mental and physical resilience of a very well-trained triathlete. That why I chose this race. Because its so demanding.
Did you undergo any training for the race?
Yes, I trained for almost 9 months leading up to the race. My focus was the run and the swim. I knew I could handle the bike part without much training. A 140km run followed by a swim across the English Channel sends shivers in the spines of most athletes. So, I did a long distance running. I joined a few 100miler and 100km running races. I also did 10 hour runs in the heat. I did most of my training alone because I was going to be alone on this course and there was hardly anyone who wanted to train with me because of the distances. In the swims I was very lucky to have a few friends in Hong Kong who enjoy long distance open water swimming. So together with these friends I did up to 13-hour open water swims, 28km swims. I also tried to keep my bike fitness. Hardest part was keeping up with the intense training but at the same time not to lose any weight. In fact, my target was to gain a few kilos going into the race. During the run and swim legs of the race most athletes would lose up to 5-6 kilos. So, I had to be fit, not overweight but at the same time not too light. When I started training I was weighing 73kg and my target was to bring my weight up to 77kg on race eve. But this was very hard due to 25-28hour training I was doing in a week. Any weight I would gain would be lost the next day during trainings. This was the hardest part of the training.
How did you balance work and family life along with your aspiration?
So, for me health comes first. Then comes family. And finally work. But triathlon sport is seen as leisure activity by many and often I am asked if I had a job because all I was seen doing was training. What people don’t see is behind the scenes. I travel a lot due to work. I train during my business trips. I try to find a hotel that has a swimming pool. If the trip is long I take my bike with me. My wife and I have a zero-social life. I focus on my work when I am in office. I don’t take long coffee or lunch breaks. I don’t participate in gossip sessions. I try to be efficient at work and I encourage my teams to also be efficient. If I am not working or training I am with my family. I have to admit that my friends circle is very limited and consists of like-minded people only. I meet most of my friends at 4am or on weekends for long swims or runs. We get less invites for parties and if we are ever invited, we are the first to arrive and first to leave. My wife loves running. She doesn’t drink any alcohol and has a very healthy lifestyle. Our boys love sports. So as a family we enjoy sports together. Eating well makes a big impact. We don’t binge on sugary foods or fatty foods. We absolutely avoid snacking on chips, sodas, samosas, pakoras, biscuits, namkeens, etc. If ever there is temptation for something sweet, Theresa bakes a homemade cake and we all enjoy that very much. I use a food app to keep track of my calorie intake and that that app is liked to my training apps. I can instantly monitor the calorie balance sheet. 99% of snacks sold in India are unhealthy and one must stay away from those murderous foods. Monitoring calories and nutrition closely can already make a person very fit. Dieting is bad. I don’t diet. Dieting is not sustainable.
“A focus on sports and physical education has to be the foundation in early years.” Shares Mayank Vaid, who has set a world record Enduroman Triathlon race.
Can you tell us about your childhood in India?
I was born in Jammu in December 1976. My late father, Mr. Ashok Kumar, served the 7 Guards regiment of the Indian Army and then he joined Border Security Force. He retired in 1991 as DIG BSF. We come from Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh. My father was a highly decorated officer and fought for the country in 1965 and 1971 wars. He was an accomplished and very fit combat officer. He went on to specialize in training Commandos and in anti-terrorist operations. My late mother originated from Haathras and Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. She was a house wife but later took to extensive community service. Due to the nature of my father’s job and his middle-class salary I moved about a lot of schools. 13 schools in 12 years. Thanks to the extensive network of Kendriya Vidyalaya schools I always had a school in my father’s new place of posting. My mother eventually became one of the best packers & movers I have known. We had tens of black colored metal boxes,each one was numbered, in which our clothes and goods travelled across the country in between postings. By the time we settled down unpacking and getting our favorite Tom Cruise, Ivan Lendl, Patrick Swayze, etc poster on the walls in our new house in a BSF compound, Dad would walk in telling us how excited he was about the new place we were going. That it had a Kendriya Vidalaya but more importantly we could climb mountains, or ride camels in the desert for days and nights, or it was linked to jungles and country parks full of lakes to swim.
I started riding horses at age four. I was given a retired white horse named Taj in the Equestrian stables of BSF Training Academy in Tekanpur, Gwalior, Madhaya Pradesh. We used to sleep in the garden with mosquito nets because it was really hot in the houses, even at night. I would wake up at 3am and get my riding gear on and walk and later bike to the stables to go and hug Taj. I was so tiny that I had a hard time getting Taj all set for riding. Taj was a big white horse but he knew I was a child. I would bribe him with jaggery and grams so that he will let me ride him. With blanket, saddle, stirrups and reins in place I will take him for a trot. My legs were so small that I wouldn’t be able to hang on to Taj because of the bounce and eventually I could be spotted hanging on to his neck. But Taj would slow down and stop walking to allow me to get back into position. I cherished spending time with Taj after the riding sessions. The rider had to take the horse to the water, let the horse roll in mud, bath and groom. The Tekanpur lake extended upto the stables so often we would be allowed to swim with the horses in the lake. The lake was infested with crocodiles but I believed they wouldn’t mess with Taj. Taj was later taken away because he was too old. The soldiers in the stables told me he was sent to an old age home and I believed that. Then I was introduced to a retired black horse named Hindustan. He was taller than Taj. I rode Hindustan cross-country and I was already galloping him away. I was only 5.
How do you feel about breaking the world record?
I am stoked. Especially, because my boys think it’s so cool to own a World Record. And after the news was published in Indian media that an Indian had secured a World Record in triathlon, I received messages on Facebook and on messenger from unknown people from Patna, Jammu, Cochin, Bangalore, Dehradun, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bhuvneshwar, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, small towns and villagesetc. to name a few places about how proud they feltabout the achievement. About how I had set an example of Indian capabilities in the sport. I am very humbled and profoundly honored with the messages. After Theresa and I returned from Europe post-race, I took my older boy, Bono, for his rugby squad training same morning we landed in Hong Kong. On the way back from rugby Bono told me how proud he was and how happy he was for me. When we parked the car at home my favorite song (Dance Monkey) was playing and Bono turned up the music and started dancing next to the car. I joined him. Bono was celebrating the success.
What were your thoughts when you came closer to the finish line after 50 hours?
We were outside Paris in 48 hours and 30 mins. So, I was hoping to go sub 50 hours. But the Paris traffic costs us a lot of time. When I was getting closer to the finish line I started to think of my family, my wife and two boys because they are the ones who made sacrifices to get me here. I remember that on Father’s Day this year I was out swimming for 12 hours. When I reached home, after the swim, that Sunday I found that the boys had been waiting for me to give me a card they had made and Theresa had been waiting for dinner she had cooked the food I like. Kids had slept because it was past 9pm and Theresa was still waiting. I had very bad sense of guilt that Father’s Day because I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. Was I ignoring my family? Was I so selfish? Why was I gone on Father’s Day for so long when almost every other family we knew were together especially on that day? The sacrifices paid off.
What kept you motivated to complete the tiresome race?
Solid training. I believe in “train hard, race easy”. Train so hard that you’re thankful its race day. I had trained for the distance. I was mentally and physically ready for the slaughter. I knew how I will feel and I was ready for that. I had trained to manage the pain. I knew I can go sleepless for 40 hors. I knew I can handle the exhaustion. Theresa had a nutrition plan for 60 hours. It was flawless. We were fully equipped with all that we needed. I don’t remember being so prepared. So, in the end I will say I was prepared. And that feeling of being prepared gave me the confidence to complete and stay motivated.
Who was your source of inspiration to push your limits?
My parents, my wife and my boys. My wife was crewing for me during the race. She had already told me that she will not let me give up. During the run the day temperature went up to 37 degrees. It was August Bank Holiday heat wave in the UK and it was unbearable. Theresa didn’t hesitate running with me in that intense heat. We later calculated that she had stopped to give me water or nutrition at least 120 times and she must have herself covered more that 50km while trying to assist me. On the swim my friend and swim partner came from Hong Kong to support me. He used his annual leave to crew me on the swim. Because my body depleted so much energy after the long run, I was suffering from cold water in the swim. Water temperature was 19 degrees (which is actually very warm from the English Channel standards) and first 3 hours was a torture for me. I started to shiver nonstop in the swim. And then I saw my father in a solemn mood sitting inside the Channel Swimming Federation boat that was piloting me during the swim. That was a sign that I had to keep pushing. But I was still so cold. My friend was giving me electrolytes mixed with warm-hot water but I was still so cold. And came a moment where the child in me begged the mother for her warmth. So, I started to talk to my mother telling her I was freezing, just like I used to when I was a kid. And she would hug me and keep me warm. All of a sudden, I was engulfed with a warm current. This brought smile to my face. I had my father sitting on the boat and my mother sending me her warmth. I had to push on. For the rest of the swim warm currents came to me each time I was getting cold. When I finished the swim at Cap Gray Nez on French Coast my friend on the boat had a message from Theresa telling him that the bike is ready and I should get ready as well. A coded message which meant we stick to plan A - Go for the WR! They are the Heroes of my life and they motivate and inspire me every day.
Being the first Indian and Asian to complete this race, was this one of your life defining moments?
Yes, having a World Record to my name and being in the record books is a great feeling of achievement.
What thoughts would you like to share with people who aspire to complete the triathlon in the future race?
Be prepared for the race. And then on top of that be prepared for uncertainty especially dealing with the elements.
Any further achievement goals?
November 21st 2019 I am attempting a 45km swim around Hong Kong Island. I doing it as a tandem solo swim which means we both will swim together the whole distance. We are also raining money for Ocean Recovery and Cleanup.
Do you think Indian Government should provide support and infrastructure for the upcoming players? Any policy change or measure will help the sport or improve the participation?
India has been performing well in sports. Especially recently we have seen young athletes making a mark internationally. I am certain there is good Government initiative. I agree we need the infrastructure. We lack good training facilities. We don’t have safe roads. We need bike lanes. We don’t have a good and reliable insurance and A&E system to support these sports. We lack good swimming pools. Most schools lack sports equipment and infrastructure. Sports education doesn’t have the priority like class room has.
A focus on sports and physical education (PE) has to be the foundation in early years. There is enough research to prove that healthy body in early years leads to a healthy mind and smart brains. Parents have to change their approach to education. Instead of praying at a temple for good grades we can invest that time and money in creating a sustainably smart brain through PE. It’s a pity that a fifth of the world population ranks so low in medal tally in the Olympics. This objectively answers the state of sports affairs in India. We can learn from China how they have made it to the top of world sports in such few years. But do the Indian bureaucrats and politicians have the humility to learn from China?
The private sector can change this. If the private can get involved in the business of sports in India we can create world class triathletes and trail runners. We need a few champions to push the cause.