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A reverie with Reeth

Reeth Abraham, the former national athletics champion, was a sportswoman who personified dedication and discipline. These qualities, Reeth believes, are in short supply at a time when aspirants look for short cuts and quick results.

INDIAN SPORT has always had several distinguished women stars who did the country proud. They lived and competed by example, giving their best shot to the chosen sport, and neither big laurels, nor money, really mattered to them. They were all chasing a dream, "to be the best in their chosen sport", and had abundant passion to achieve their goals. Among that illustrious lot was Reeth Abraham, who was a champion in her own right. Twice national champion in heptathlon and a long jump record holder, Reeth made a mark on the national scene, in an era dominated by the "P.T. Usha phenomenon".

Looking back at her career, Reeth, who hung up her spikes in 1994, says: "I enjoyed every moment of it because I was doing what I loved doing."

Getting into sports was not difficult task for the lithe and long limbed Reeth, as she hailed from a family that was highly sports conscious. Her sisters, Seeth and Neeth, were outstanding performers in their own right, in basketball and tennis respectively, and Reeth herself was a multi faceted sports personality, who was good in kho-kho, basketball, throw ball, and of course, athletics. She was so good that she had represented the State in these disciplines, and she finally had to settle for one, which was athletics, in which she went on to excel. In her quest for excellence, she found the right soul mate, Sunil Abraham, himself a noted athlete, who later turned into coach. Sunil, as a life partner, motivated Reeth all the way.

"In the formative years, in Mysore, I was lucky that I had the right environment and a school that encouraged sports and developed love for sports, especially athletics. I was in love of it and nothing else mattered much."

An ace athlete like Reeth, who works with the Corporation Bank, went on to sizzle with very little support. The irony now is the young athletes of the new generation, who, despite, having all facilities, are not even a patch on performers like her. Reeth feels that despite a good deal of exposure and good training facilities, the present generation of athletes failed to utilise opportunities that came their way. "There are a lot of genuine talent and their energies are not channelised in a proper way. In our days, sports alone was a recreation, but the for the present day kids, there are million other avenues, but I won't say they are not focussed. Diversions are too much and hard to resist."

Reeth opines that another factor curbing the current crop of young sportspersons is their attitude. "They want results first, instead of working for it. Tell me, how can one achieve anything unless you work hard for it? A sport like athletics is demanding and it needs lot of discipline and dedication, and at times, in return for nothing." That itself is a big put off for the youngsters, who, according to Reeth, look for some big money. "The sport doesn't really have it, and there is lack of glamour too. Kids have lot of expectations when they really take up a sport, but when they realise it doesn't come quickly, they are disappointed and give up easily."

Another factor that is responsible for the lack of appeal among the present day's younger lot, is the over involvement of parents. "In my days, there was no parental pressure to perform, but now there is an over involvement. The parents are more impatient than their wards and that creates a lot of pressure on the children. Add to that, a good deal of academic pressure, sports takes a back seat in most of the Indian educational curriculum."

Reeth also feels that quality of physical education has gone down in schools and the so-called physical instructors lack the basics. "The other day, I was presiding over a school athletics function, and the physical instructress who was in charge of the competition was calling out competitors for a 100 metre race, which was actually a 50 metre event. Either they are ignorant or are simply misleading the children." Reeth says that Indian athletics, especially among women, has not progressed beyond the level that it witnessed in the mid 1980s.

"It is stagnant and it is futile to look for excuses when there is a systematic apathy all around."

Reeth also came down heavily on the drug abuse in the sport. "I wouldn't have competed against anyone who had taken drugs to enhance performance. I would have been bitter, and why not? It is unfair for anyone to get an undue advantage, by a short cut method which has enormous and dangerous side affects. But the fact is this goes on in Indian sport now, with the sports federations preferring to look the other way. At the end of the day, this is a frustrating experience for athletes and I feel sorry for those who pop a pill to get that extra edge."

Reeth, along with her husband, Sunil Abraham, started a training programme called "SURE Athletic Movement", which trained young kids in athletics.

It was path-breaking effort, which had an untimely end." Sunil was more into it and it was his concept. It failed because the kids had no commitment. "We had good results at the junior level, but when they got into senior ranks, they (trainees) had other priorities than athletics. We did our best to keep it going, but then our commitment and dedication alone was not enough to hold it together. It has been a long time since I went to Sree Kanteerava stadium and whenever I accompany my son, who uses the tennis courts there, I wander across to the stadium and wonder where all the athletes are," says a wistful Reeth. Does she ever regret that she was a sportswoman? "Never. If I have to be born again, I wish to be an athlete," avers Reeth, with her typical conviction and passion. Pity, they don't come like her any more.


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