“It’s only now that people are realizing depression is a real thing” – Amar Haksar

19 July 2023
Shreya Gupta Written by Shreya Gupta
Shreya Gupta

Shreya Gupta

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Voluntarily putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Pushing your endurance limits. Demanding yourself to step out of your comfort zone. 

Isn’t this approach very counterintuitive to self-love?

We asked Amar Haksar this, and he doesn’t quite agree.

“When you love someone, you put effort into winning them over. Endurance feats are also an expression of self-love. It shows I’m willing to do all this for my own good,” he said. 

US-based Amar is an endurance enthusiast, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. He has over 20 years of expertise in business development, talent acquisition, and entrepreneurship across industries and geographies. 

With a progressive professional graph, he has also achieved many endurance feats, including a solo bicycle ride across America in 50 days, 20 half-marathons in 20 consecutive weekends, and an active triathlon streak of over 600 days. 

What led to Amar’s interest in endurance activities? How does he correlate his endurance journey to mental health? We discussed life, braving the storms, and the importance of endurance activities. 

Your parents got separated when you were young. What was its emotional impact on your life when you look back at it now?

Growing up, I had a secure upbringing in South Mumbai (then South Bombay), but when my parents got divorced, it changed my life. My mother left for the US, and my dad raised me and my brother. 

To look back at it now, it had a long-standing emotional impact. In the 70s, it wasn’t normal for Indian kids to have divorced parents. It isn’t, even now. I couldn’t talk to anyone who’d understand my mental state. It wasn’t until I went to Boston University for my undergrad that I found a group with shared experiences of separation and disconnect from a parent. 

I finally realized the importance of being vulnerable and freely sharing my feelings.

How did you stumble upon the idea of going across America on a bicycle? Was it something on your wishlist? 

During college in the US, I finally got closer to my mother. Upon graduation, I started my corporate career, felt stuck in it after years, and quit the rat race. I was coaching and playing squash in California when my mother got sick. She was diagnosed with leukemia, and I spent all my time with her in the cancer ward of Cleveland Clinic Hospital. I also started reading nonfiction books about cancer survivors.

For the first time, I was exposed to the pain and harsh reality of life around me. 

The situation was unnerving. I witnessed immense physical suffering while the staff tried their best as caregivers. When my mother finally came home, I was grateful to everyone who supported her health, but there wasn’t much to do in return. 

That’s when I read someone’s story of going on a long bicycle journey in the US. At that moment, I had a strange thought of stepping out of my comfort zone as an ode to cancer patients and taking on this physical challenge. That was the beginning of my bicycle journey.

Once you headed out on this journey, you must have had exciting experiences. What was your ultimate takeaway?

It was in the early 2000s before social media became a thing, so my journey was very secluded and personal. I used a Trans America Trail map to ride from the east of America to the west in 50 days. It was just me, my bicycle, a tent, and a sleeping bag. In those 50 days, I slept in churches, parks, and school parks, crashed my bike in a dark alley, and went through quiet, suburban streets without really interacting with anybody. 

During this challenge, I learned to appreciate my privileges and felt grateful for the life I had so far. Food, water, survival, and its cost was my basic thought throughout, and I realized that’s what life really is. In all its simplicity, it’s about survival. 

The bicycle journey taught me the importance of consistency in life. Every day was a routine, and the consistency got me through challenges.

After beginning your endurance journey with the bicycle ride, you decided to do 20 half marathons on 20 consecutive weekends. What’s the story behind it?

Years after my bicycle ride, life was different. I was living with my wife and a kid when a friend asked if I wanted to participate in a half marathon. I was in no shape then, but coincidentally I had started reading books on fitness. David Goggins’s story inspired me to move out of my comfort zone again. 

Then I started training intently and completed 20 half marathons in 20 consecutive weeks. 

Training for endurance activities is always more fulfilling than the actual event. During the training, you develop a habit, build consistency, move forward, and keep growing.

Your life’s journey hasn’t been smooth. It had a lot of crests and troughs, which also took a toll on your mental health. How do you negotiate with yourself to show up every day?

That’s life, full of highs and lows. I faced multiple personal challenges alongside the satisfaction of heavy endurance feats.

I was diagnosed with skin cancer that was surgically treated. There was knee surgery for my meniscus. I also put on weight I badly needed to lose for a healthy life. 

My health crisis triggered the memories of my mother’s struggle with leukemia and was mentally exhausting. I also got to know that my mother was suicidal — there were instances of failed attempts. It’s only now that people are realizing depression is a real thing. A chemical imbalance. We need to move past the stigma around depression, too. 

I found endurance to be my way of ensuring mental wellness. The best way to deal with every difficulty is to start your day with productivity, which sets the tone for the rest of the day. 

“Start small, be consistent, do more.”

Nothing will ever be easy. Every day will be a struggle. So, create situations where you have no alternative to showing up. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and walk out stronger through endurance. 

You have achieved many milestones in endurance. So what’s next for Amar?

I have learned a lot through life, so now, I am keen on sharing my experiences. If I can impact even one person with my story, it’ll be a job well done. 

I also expect to engage in more endurance activities to get further out of my comfort zone. I also want to start a discourse on the mental impact of these endurance challenges, so let this be the beginning.

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