A debut memoir chronicles the experiences of an endurance athlete who became the first Asian woman to compete in the Ultraman Canada.
Vaidyanathan is an unlikely endurance athlete. A native of India, which is not known as a breeding ground for female athletes, she didn’t even consider participating in an Ironman competition until she reached an emotional dead end after studying at five colleges and spending six years in the U.S. “I asked myself, ‘Am I doing this for fun?’ ” she recalls in her memoir. “The answer came almost immediately. ‘Hell, no! I am doing this to buy me my oblivion.’ ” On one level, the book tracks Vaidyanathan's progress through a grueling series of Ironman races in Ottawa, Brazil, New Zealand, and China, culminating in her becoming the first Asian woman to compete in the three-day Ultraman Canada. In her training, she had to overcome such obstacles as being chased by a pack of dogs while running in India and dive-bombed by magpies on a group bicycle ride in New Zealand. “Luckily, the more experienced Kiwis upfront fielded most of the attacks, with no casualties,” she writes. The pace of the narrative can be slow at times, but the author livens things up with her wry humor. A cycling tour in New Zealand attracts “hard men and women with shiny quads,” while sports psychology might be a nice profession because “it paid a neat amount and I could do monologues.” In perhaps the most compelling sections, Vaidyanathan captures her journey away from the constrictive expectations and prejudices of Indian society. At a swimming pool, a reputed coach tells her, “Not worth it. Give up swimming. Get married.” And she doesn't get much support from her family either. “My parents did not speak of it to me, but my relatives put intense pressure on them to find me a man so I could ‘settle down,’ ” she writes. “What are Indian women anyway? Sediment? Settling is so boring.” It is through her physical endurance tests, in fact, that the author ultimately finds self-realization: “Sport itself had taken me to unexpected places...I visited repeatedly the dwelling of my inner goddess, the forests, and ran free.”
The author’s observations about Indian society and its expectations for women give this engaging and perceptive book an extra dimension.