Pursuit of Happiness

Hot wheels

Nephroplus’ Vikram Vuppala’s eight-wheelers can outrun any fancy car

Hyderabad doesn’t have too many smooth, paved roads, says Vikram Vuppala as he puts on his helmet. The Necklace Road down Hussain Sagar lake, however, is a refreshing exception — well-paved and picturesque, with scant traffic in the mornings. This makes the stretch perfect for early morning joggers, cyclists and, well, Vuppala. Because on any given weekend morning, the 37-year-old co-founder and CEO of Nephroplus, a kidney care network provider, straps on his armour of elbow and knee pads and takes to the streets on his rollerblades. Cars often slow down to take in the sight, children run along trying to keep up and grown-ups whip out their camera phones and start snapping. Needless to say, rollerblading isn’t a very popular activity in India, yet. Even Vuppala’s stint with the sport began when he was pursuing his Masters in Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “At the university, no one used motorised vehicles to commute from one place to the other. Rollerblading, cycling or walking were faster and more cost-efficient. My dorm was about two miles from the college building, but I never used a vehicle to travel back and forth,” he says.

An engineer from IIT Kharagpur, Vuppala moved to the US in 2000 for his Masters in computer science and later pursued MBA from the University of Chicago. “I taught myself how to skate, at first, but friends suggested that I take professional coaching to get my stance and posture right and minimise damage to my limbs.” After a series of sessions with a trainer and “half a million” falls, rollerblading became second nature for Vuppala.

But the move back home has cut down his rollerblading hours drastically. “I miss all the time I used to spend rollerblading. Like any other entrepreneur, I am perennially short of free time. I do manage to catch up on it during the weekends.” But the high that the sport gives can be difficult to keep away from, even on vacation. Vuppala recounts instances when he rented rollerblades on trips abroad to satisfy his craving. The fact that roads tend to be paved and smoother abroad is an added advantage. “Though shops renting out rollerblades aren’t very common, a lot of places in France, which I frequent, do offer these services,” he adds.

Vuppala, who has worked with McKinsey and Abbott Laboratories in New York in the past, says that the experience of setting up his own enterprise back home after spending more than a decade working abroad has changed his life in more ways than one. And while local conditions have forced him to cut back on rollerblading, he has supplemented his fitness regime by taking to running. Inspired by his wife’s decision to run a half marathon, Vuppala started training for the same himself and has since completed four half marathons. “As young entrepreneurs, we are neither bogged down by a fixed routine nor are we afraid of challenges. So, we tend to focus on our fitness and keep testing our limits,” he says. Vuppala sure seems to have found the best way to keep fit — on eight wheels.