Distraught after a failed gender test that led her to attempt suicide, Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan has turned to coaching and transferred her dreams to her new charges.
“One of my students will win a medal in the 2014 Asian Games,” Santhi told reporters in an interview. “That’s my dream, that’s what I am working toward.”
Santhi was stripped of her women’s 800m silver medal in the 2006 Asian Games after failing a gender test and was admitted to hospital last September following a suicide bid.
“I was shattered by the failed test,” she said in Tamil. “The Athletics Federation of India did not support me, did not fight my cause. I was hoping they would. I was depressed. I felt like I had lost everything. It still hurts. I loved the sport so much. My dream broken, I attempted suicide.”
The 28-year-old athlete found hope in coaching as she struggled to recover from the traumatic experience.
“My sports career had ended, but I wanted to stay in the only thing that I know — athletics. That’s the reason for my re-entry,” she said.
Two months after her suicide attempt, Santhi launched her own academy in her home town of Pudukkottai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
“I have 68 students at the academy,” she said, pride filling her eyes. “I run a hostel for 10 talented boys. I’ve taken a house, provide food and also stay with them.”
One of her pupils won the Chennai marathon and another finished third in the event, she said.
Santhi, who is also an athletics coach with the regional government, said she was looking for a government grant to help her run the hostel.
“I won’t be able to continue it on my own for long,” she said. “It costs 10,000 rupees [US$212] a month to run it. I put in some of my money and some people help. I try and provide kit and food for all the children at the academy. They come from poor families and only if we provide these facilities will they come.”
Santhi, like many Indian track and field athletes, took up sport to find a secure job and escape grinding poverty.
One of five children of brick-kiln laborers she overcame malnutrition as a child to become a middle-distance runner.
“I know what poverty feels like. I have begged ... food as a child,” Santhi said. “As a kid, my coach arranged for food for me. I want to do the same for these needy children.”