Between winning for UC Berkeley’s triathlon team and completing a Ph.D. in Computers and Electrical Engineering, 23-year-old Prashanth Ganesh has a lot going on. Recently, he won the LA Legacy Triathlon and came second (nonprofessional circuit) in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. With his result in the Escape from Alcatraz competition, he has qualified for the Olympic circuit of competitions for qualification to the Olympics. At the heels of these wins, he has taken the time to join us on a call and give an interview.
Growing up in Dallas, Texas, Prashanth swam for the high school team and played basketball with his friends. Prashanth liked Dallas, saying that it is a good place to grow up. At UC Berkeley, he majored in EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) and is now pursuing a Ph.D. In a community where academics are held in high esteem, Prashanth shows that success in athletics and academics are not mutually exclusive. When asked about it, he said that the cultural focus on academics has helped him get ahead academically and spend more time on triathlon.
That being said, South Asian Americans (and Asian Americans as a whole) remain underrepresented in athletics. A reason for this could be the cultural emphasis on academics above all else. Prashanth shows that athletics are not necessarily detrimental to academics. Furthermore, South Asian Americans do not have any major role models in sports from their community. This creates a cycle of underrepresentation. When asked about his role models, Prashanth named two triathletes from Britain and comments that having a role model from the same community helps.
Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports notes that Indian Americans have been particularly successful at academic competitions such as the Scripps Spelling Bee, and that this comes from having support in the community. When a community gains representation and accepts a sport (in this case the Spelling Bee), a figurative “pipeline” is built which aids success for future competitors from the community. In the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, three Indian-American athletes competed. Rajeev Ram competed in men’s mixed doubles tennis and Nikhil Kumar and Kanak Jha competed in table tennis. Kanak Jha is notable for being the United States’s youngest participant at Rio 2016. Prashanth hopes to advance in the national triathlon circuit. Prashanth’s success at the LA Legacy Triathlon is part of the qualification process for the 2028 Olympics.
Prashanth initially got into triathlon because he saw it as a good way to stay fit. With its three sports, swim, bike, and run, it is really tough on the body (I say this as the proud participant of exactly one triathlon). Most triathletes find the swimming part to be most difficult, but Prashanth’s past experience on his high school’s swim team came in handy. Along with sports in high school, he also went to Bal Vikas, a spiritual school for children.
In his first triathlon, he came in 483rd place out of 1000. Instead of brooding over the average result, he was motivated to pursue more training. Prashanth’s advice to young people getting into triathlon or any sport is: “don’t get discouraged by any results”. Instead, he says, it is more important to train regularly and sleep well. It’s probably good advice for life in general too.
Prashanth has a grueling triathlon training schedule, he usually trains twice a day. Over the course of the week, he trains for 18-21 hours. Despite his training and college work, he makes sure to get 8 hours of sleep. One thing he misses about high school is sleeping in on the weekends, something his current schedule does not allow. For his success, he sacrificed what high schoolers everywhere hold dear.
While this lifestyle is certainly challenging, Prashanth still enjoys it and stays motivated. Sometimes, he feels tired before a workout, but getting through these moments is where he says success lies. All of us can make changes to our lifestyle to make our lives more efficient.
A final surprise was the revelation that Prashanth is a vegetarian, and says that claims of a vegetarian diet not being conducive to athletics are overblown. Prashanth cites other strong herbivorous animals, like horses and cows that have a huge amount of stamina. He likes to eat South Indian food and gets protein from lentils, beans like kidney beans, and tofu. For energy in his training, he eats “a lot of rice and vegetables”. While Vegetarianism is common in the Desi community, it gets some criticism for being high in carbs and low in protein. Prashant’s athletic success, in perhaps the most grueling and physically demanding sport, is a testament to the fact that with balanced planned eating, a vegetarian diet is neither a handicap nor an excuse to not excel in athletics.
Combining passion with a planned and dedicated hard work is already yielding results for him, not many people can claim to be training for Olympic qualifiers and getting a Ph.D. degree in the same breath. One thing we can learn from Prashanth is that academics and athletics can go hand-in-hand. I, for one, hope to be healthy, mentally and physically, as I get older.
Ashir Rao is a student at Los Gatos High School, CA. He likes programming and history — especially as it relates to current events.