Poverty but no loneliness for this long-distance runner

August 2nd, 2008 - 2:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sanu George
Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 2 (IANS) Preeja Sreedharan has already battled poverty to be in the Indian team at the Beijing Olympics. But she hasn’t suffered the loneliness of the long-distance runner. The 10,000-metre runner’s family has backed her throughout. Born in a poor family, Preeja lost her father in childhood and her mother took over as the breadwinner. She struggled day and night to bring up her children.

Despite all the hardship, the family kept alive Preeja’s dream of long distance running. Years of toil will bear fruit not just for her, but for the entire family when they watch her representing the country in the 10,000 mts.

Those days of hardship shaped the iron-willed determination of Preeja, her brother says. For the past 18 months, Preeja’s only goal has been to book her berth in the Olympics. She got it through a quota place in London, achieving a B qualifying mark.

She has represented India in the 2006 Asian Games at Doha where she finished fifth in the 5,000m as well as 10,000m races.

“For the past 18 months she has not come home. But I and my mother have gone and met her at the practice camps in Bangalore and when she was in Munnar,” says Preeja’s brother Pradeep, a carpenter.

“Now our only wish is that she does well at Beijing. Though we missed her for the past 18 months, we all know that she is striving hard for the country.

“We will now be in Palakkad and will be glued to the TV. Everyday she calls to speak to mother and me and our only wish now is that she achieves success.”

Preeja, who hogged the limelight after winning silver in the Asian athletics championships in the 10,000m last year, does not have a sponsor.

“She does not have a single sponsor. Now she is under the supervision of a Russian coach R. Nicholos. We want the support of the entire country for Preeja in the coming days so that her morale is high,” Pradeep said on phone from Idukki.

Talking about Preeja’s early career, Pradeep says: “When she was in Class 9, her coach Renachandran was transferred to another school. But he was kind enough to accommodate Preeja at her home and train her. That was the turning point in her career. She turned into a quality middle and long distance runner.”

Seeing her excellent performance, Indian Railways offered Preeja a job as a clerk at Palakkad. It came as a big relief for the family who were living in Idukki before that.

“Ever since she got a quarter at Palakkad three years back, our mother, I and my family moved out from our home in Idukki. We stay in Palakkad now. Occasionally we do go to our home in Idukki, which is in a dilapidated condition. We do not have power and TV set at our Idukki home,” said Pradeep.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

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