Preeja Sreedharan’s eyes turned teary as she spoke about her family. The girl from Mullakkanam in Kerala struggled to control her emotions as she narrated her life story after stunning the field in the women’s 10,000 metres.
“After winning, my immediate thoughts were with my mother (Ramini) and brother (Pradeep). They have made huge sacrifices and I am here today because of them,” Preeja said.
“I lost my dad when I was very young and it was a big struggle for all of us, my brother Pradeep had to quit studies after eighth standard and started working. He worked as a carpenter. Meri maa ko doosro ke ghar mein kaam karna padaa (My mother had to work in others’ houses),” said Preeja as she narrated her inspiring rise from a humble beginning to the top.
Luckily for Indian athletics, Preeja’s physical education teacher in Rajakand School initiated her into athletics. Her first coach was Ranendra. From there she joined Alphonsa College, Pala, and her athletics career prospered as the institution gave lot of emphasis to sports.
Her first major championship was the Asian Cross Country in 1999. But the happiest moment in her life, she said is when she got the job in Railways.
After her stunning run on Sunday, she was mobbed by the international media. “When I started I never thought I would get so much (gold and all the adulation).”
She ran with remarkable poise and never for a moment felt flustered by the big names in the race. “I stuck to my coach’s instructions. He told me to stick to my style and not to bother about what the opponents were doing. I was confident about the medal as I was doing very well in training.”
Preeja credited her coach Nikolai Snesarev’s training and planning for the success. “We were here two weeks before the event, and that was the key to our success.”