SiddharthRoutray is a man who loves to wear many hats! An ex-army man, a top executive in an American company and an entrepreneur, this 42-year-old has recently added yet another feather to his ‘hat’ by becoming the first ‘IRONMAN’ from Odisha. A fitness freak, Siddharth took up the challenge of the toughest triathlon in the world in USA and won the title bringing laurels for his state.
Siddharth was recently in the city when My City Links caught up with him for a conversation about his inspiring life and his inspirations.
Tell us about your journey from the armed forces to entrepreneurship into athletics.
My years in school and then at the defence academy had a huge influence in forming who I am today. While most of my friends got into conventional courses, I had an inherent thrust to do something different. I got admitted to the National Defence Academy.
I, especially, loved my years with the Indian Army. The training not only made me a strong person, physically and mentally, but also carved the raw self of me into a gentleman and a leader. I developed the spirit of camaraderie. Though the training was exciting, my job as an army officer turned out to be dull for me as I was looking for more action. After all that rigorous training, I was eager to get some war experience. However, there wasn’t any at that time!
I started looking for something more interesting and challenging. Many of my colleagues in the Army suggested that I am well suited for the restless corporate world. Therefore, I completed my Master’s course in Business Administration and became a CFA. I started working in Mumbai with Patni Computers. But then again, the corporate world did not keep me interested for long. I started looking for bigger challenges. Three years through the corporate job, I desperately wanted to become an entrepreneur. I took a break and traveled widely across Odisha.
By that time, I had already read about a whole range of healthy organic products from my clients in America. I figured that there was a huge business potential in exporting organic food from USA. Unfortunately, for me, my idea was too progressive for those times and there was hardly any, market for such products in India. Nevertheless, in pursuing my dream, I lost all my savings and went broke while trying to make the idea work in a market like Odisha. I was in debt with nearly Rs.1.5 crores of bank loan. Forced by circumstances, I had no choice, but to head to the USA for a high paying job so that I could repay my loan. Finally, I am relieved to be done with the loan this year. In fact, I am indebted to my family, friends and the employees who have stood by me as strong pillars of support through the tough times.
When in America, I was thrilled to find that people indulged in all kinds of adventure sports and I found a few friends who were into such activities. I took it up and kept myself engaged during the weekends. That satisfied my thirst for adventure and kept me happy. I called it the‘weekend digital detoxification’. Weekends should be all about adventure and fitness sans gadgets. These activities gradually led me into sports.
Has your Army background been of any help?
Yes. The NDA training made me a risk taker and fearless. Whatever I am today, I owe it mostly to the NDA.
Although you had competed for IRONMAN earlier in 2015, you emerged as a winner this year. As challenging as the championship is, what gave you the motivation to go back to the tracks again?
In USA, most people take part in these extreme sports for fun. I too did the same. It helped me get alongwith a number of similar minded friends and kept me fit as well. I started in 2015 with a 1/2 IRONMAN race in Austin, Texas. It gave me confidence that I can do it, and try competing for a FULL IRONMAN in 2016. Though in 2016, I was in great shape where I could cycle for 180 km and run for 42 km in 9 hour 50 minutes, the weather turned adverse and they had to cancel the 4 km swim. In a way, I felt incomplete. Thus, I started planning for 2017 with the aim to complete the race until the end.
How does it feel to be the first ever IRONMAN from Odisha?
Becoming an IRONMAN is all about challenges and it was a great relief when I was finally able to cross the finish line. I suffered from severe cramps after 10 hours through the competition. I was limping and they called for the paramedics to carry me out of the race. However, my biggest motivation were my parents who had flown in all the way from Odisha to cheer me. I could not have let them down, in any case. Moreover, being a representative of India, I could not have let my country down. It took me an hour to recover from extreme fatigue, but I never gave up. I wanted to prove my Dad's words, "JaisaDeshWaisaBhesh". An ex-NDA and a Payika son from Khurda, I wanted to prove that I am capable of accomplishing anything that I want to. I wanted to prove to all my American employees who work under me, that their boss is an IRONMAN.
We heard you had an accident a few days before the race. How then did you prepare yourself for the race? How did it feel to win the title even when you were unfit physically for such strenuous sports?
Unfortunately, just four weeks before the race, I met with an accident with a mini truck, while training for the bicycle ride. I was down in bed for two weeks with swollen legs and ten stitches. Despite that, it never occurred to me to give up. I was even more determined to compete and finish the race. In fact, one had to pay around Rs.1 lakh to run in these races. If you cannot run, or back-out, you lose all your money. And, I went for it and became the first FULL IRONMAN from Odisha. My timing wasn’t exactly good as it took me 14 hours and 21 minutes to finish the race. I was aiming for less than 12 hours. But I have decided I will go for it again in 2018.
Who has been your inspiration in life?
Actor Milind Sonam has been an inspiration for me in some ways. He is the first IRONMAN from India. I don't think anyone in India even knew about these races before he did one of them.
Nevertheless, my biggest inspiration is my father, Suresh Routray. His relentless energy for serving people is remarkable. I remember him going sleepless on many nights to help people with hospital emergencies even at dead of the night. Even today at the age of 74, he devotes 14 hours a day to the service of people. Amazing, isn’t it? I think he does anIRONMAN every dayin his life.
Even after working as a director of Ooma VoIP phones, and having a business in Odisha, how do you manage time to pursue your passion?
The good thing about working in Silicon Valley is its work life balance. If I get my job done in time and achieve my company goals, then I do not have much to worry. Here, work is taken into account, not the working hours. Time management is the key. I head for my daily run of 10 km early in the morning before my daughters wake up. I wake them up after I return from the run and get them ready for school. On many occasions, my wife travels to India for months to take care of the business. So, I end up doing all the cooking and household chores. After dropping the kids to school, I go to my office on the bicycle. As myoffice is 30 km away from home, it takes care of my daily biking practice. While winding up for the day, I pick the kids from school after office, bring them home, serve them dinner, help them with their homework and spend some quality time with them. After they go to bed, I go swimming for an hour’s practice daily. It is all about disciplining yourself, which I learned from NDA.
According to you, how important is it for youngsters to take up some kind of sports?
Nobody has ever asked me in my life about my high school or college scores. But when they ask me about my hobby, I say it is doing IRONMAN and climbing mountains. That is all it takes to leave them in awe. My team members and my boss respect me, which makes my work life so much easier. A fit man can always do so much more. Confining oneself to books only is such a waste of time. You can be a highly paid worker, but can never be a leader, if you are not doing sports, music or adventure. You have to live an active life, or else it becomes boring and stressful.
What would be your advice for those who are conscious about their fitness?
There is no way Odisha can become a great place, if we are not as fit as our Kalinga ancestors were. Fitness is the greatest gift you can give to yourself.