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Olympic bound Revathi: Sprinting away from poverty

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By Venkatachari Jagannathan

Chennai, July 8 (IANS) When 23-year old Tamil Nadu sprinter and the Tokyo Olympic bound V.Revathi went to the dining hall at the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala for the first time she saw almonds and pista.

It was also the first time Revathi saw bowls of different kinds of dishes and had unlimited food including non-veg dishes.

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“During my school and college days in Madurai in Tamil Nadu, I had heard about dry nuts like almond and pista. It was for the first time I saw them at the coaching camp. Further it was for the first time I was having unlimited food on a daily basis,” Revathi told IANS.

The value of one morsel of food is known only to those who don’t have that.

Revathi and her younger sister lost their parents at a very young age and who grew up in a government hostel knew that very well at a very tender age.

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Their grandmother Aarammal, a labourer took care of the young girls and later admitted them to a government hostel as she didn’t have the financial means to feed the two more mouths.

“Patti (grandmother) used to work in the government’s 100 day rural employment guarantee scheme. For the remaining days in a year, she used to be a construction worker,” Revathi said.

“During the school days, the food provided was of limited quantity and second helping was possible only when someone was not there,” Revathi mused.

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The sumptuous food at the Patiala camp brought the memories of her tough childhood days rushing to her mind.

“Our Patti used to visit us at the school hostel once a month. We used to eagerly wait for that visit as she would bring some snacks. Parents of other hostel mates would make weekly visits with snacks,” she said.

During some months, Aarammal would not have money to buy her grand daughters the snacks and she would dry fry some rice till it turns brown and give it to the girls.

“You also try that out. It tastes good,” Revathi suggested enthusiastically.

When Revathi won her first medal, her grandmother wondered as to its utility as the former had brought utensils as prizes earlier.

“Given our financial condition, Patti was right. And in some races I was given just a certificate, the value of which Patti wouldn’t know,” Revathi mused.

Be that as it may, Revathi started her racing career barefoot while she was in 10th standard and started her winning streak.

It was when she was studying 12th standard she won a district race and caught the eye of coach K.Kannan.

“He had asked me to come to the race ground so that he could coach me free of cost. But the travel cost was about Rs.40 which I could not afford,” Revathi said.

Later Kannan helped her to get the college seat in the Lady Doak College in Madurai under the sports quota where she need not pay any fees and also got hostel accommodation.

“I had wanted to do Botany in college as I had scored decent marks in that subject in the 12th class, but later decided to do BA Tamil,” she remarked.

During her first year in college, her seniors used to provide their old t-shirts for Revathi to don and run races.

Soon Revathi started winning medals in the state events and also won the national juniors gold in 100, 200 and 4×100 metres events.

In the senior nationals also Revathi won Silver.

“My first flight experience was travelling to Patiala to participate in a race. Somehow I buckled the seat belt but was not able to unbuckle it on landing. After a struggle I unbuckled it. Later my coach taught me how to buckle and unbuckle the seat belt,” Revathi said.

She also ran for the country in the 4×100 metres event at the 2019 Asian Athletics Championship held in Doha and the Indian team came fourth.

At the camp in Patiala, Revathi clocked 53.55 seconds and was selected for the 4×400 mixed relay team.

Speaking about her training for the Tokyo Olympics she said the Russian-American coach Galina Bukharana is training the team.

“We are learning more techniques, improving the running speed and stamina by doing weights. The coach will tell the morning and evening schedule and accordingly we do that. After the two hours training we will have an ice bath- sit in a tub filled with ice- minutes to ease our muscles so that we can be ready for the next day,” Revathi added.

Queried about her grandmother, Revathi said coach Kannan had arranged a house for some trainees and `Patti’ cooks and stayed there.

Sister Rekha has joined the Tamil Nadu police while Revathi has got a job with the Indian Railways at Madurai.

“Patti doesn’t know about the Olympics but she is proud now as people are telling her and enquiring about her,” the sprinter added.

Hoping to win a medal in Tokyo, Revathi said her next aim is to participate in the individual events in the next Asian and Commonwealth Games.

Looking back Revathi added, but for coach Kannan, she wouldn’t have come this far.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

–IANS

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