BY: ZOE MELNYK
While some live by the philosophy that laughter is the best medicine, this ex-marine is trying to prove that there really is no higher remedy than the healing powers of being in nature and exploring every inch of the earth.
Before deciding to turn his life around and join the military, Akshay Nanavati, 31, experienced a deeply troubled youth. He was born and raised in India until the age of eight when he moved to Singapore, and just five years later, he and his family found themselves relocated to Austin, Texas.
The move from India to Texas inevitably came with a radically different culture and lifestyle. Nanavati found himself to be hopelessly lost in his new life. He fell into a dangerous cycle of drug use that eventually led to the death of his two close friends.
After his traumatizing experiences, Nanavati searched for a new path and found inspiration after watching Black Hawk Down. He decided that the Marines would be his way to break free from his lifestyle.
Akshay Nanavati joined the Marines to overcome a life of drugs. After returning from the Iraq war he plans on running across every country on earth to battle PTSD.
In 2001, he enrolled in the United States Marine Corps, but his acceptance was postponed for a year due to a medical condition. Nonetheless, Nanavati persevered and completed boot camp.
Training completely altered Nanavati’s mindset, and he found himself testing his limits both physically and mentally. He began studying philosophy and history at Southwestern University while taking up extreme sports like skydiving, mountain biking, scuba diving and ice climbing.
Just when life seemed to be running smoothly for Nanavati, his education and new hobbies were put on hold in 2007 when he was called to serve as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This journey will be more challenging than anything he has every experienced. To run across all 193 countries it will take 20-25 years.
Five months of training later, he found himself in the thick of Iraq for a full seven months before returning home. Nanavati saw firsthand what it meant to possess very little freedom, and the entire experience caused him to be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Struggling through years of hardship and adversity under oppressive regimes hardened the Iraqi people,” Nanavati wrote in his blog.
He felt a responsibility to share their story and even went so far as to earn a degree in journalism in order to accurately report perilous living conditions around the world.
After completing his education and his time with the Marines in 2010, he dove into the next chapter of his life. He decided to run through every nation in the world to overcome his PTSD while embracing his love for nature.
His very first accomplishment came in 2012, when he successfully trekked through Greenland in just 28 days. The freezing temperatures and dangerous terrain proved to be a rude awakening for the ex-marine; however, he shows no signs of slowing down and continues to plan his future expeditions.
“On a 50-kilometre run I went through many moments where I asked myself ‘Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life?’” says Nanavati. Yet after crossing the dangerous Greenland terrain he shows no signs of slowing down.
Since then, Nanavati has run through dozens of other countries including Andorra, Monaco, Luxembourg and Malta. The price tag for this massive journey is estimated to be approximately $5 million, but Nanavati is confident in his abilities to work with corporations for funding.
The more important factor is raising global unity and inspiring others to embrace their total and utter freedom, a right denied to millions around the world.
To most, Nanavati’s goal seems insurmountable, but for him, it’s all about giving life a purpose. In an interview with CNN, he said “I choose to do something that inspires me to wake up every morning in order to make my life and the world better.”
“It occurred to me that there would be no better way to see the planet and the people that live within it than doing so by foot” says Nanavati. “Running allows me to experience the spectrum of the human condition: ultimate bliss, extreme suffering, complete stillness where there is no past and future. In one run I get to experience an entire human life.”