Santhi Soundarajan is a track and field athlete from Tamil Nadu, India. She is the winner of 12 international medals for India and around 50 medals for her home state of Tamil Nadu. Let us wish her a very happy birthday.
Santhi was born on 17 April 1981 in the village of Kathakkurichi in the Pudukkottai District of Tamil Nadu, India. Santhi grew up in a small hut. There was no bathroom or outhouse, nor was there running water or electricity. She overcame malnutrition as a child to become a middle-distance runner. At her first competition, in eighth grade, Santhi won a tin cup trophy; she collected 13 more in inter school competitions. The sports coach at a nearby high school took note of her performances and recruited her. The school paid her tuition and provided her with a uniform and hot lunches. It was the first time Santhi had ever eaten three meals a day.
After high school, Santhi got a scholarship from an Arts college in Pudukkottai. In 2005, she attended the Asian Athletics Championships in South Korea, where she won a silver medal. Santhi holds the national record for the women’s 3000 metres steeplechase clocking 10:44.65 seconds. At a national meet in Bangalore in July 2005, she won the 800m, 1,500m and 3000m. She won the silver medal in 800 m at the 2005 Asian Championships in Incheon, South Korea.
In 2006, she was chosen to represent India at the Asian Games. In the 800 meters, Santhi took the silver in 2 minutes, 3.16 seconds. But shortly after winning silver, she was stripped of her eligibility to participate in any sports event. She had to undergo a controversial ‘sex test’ in which it was determined that she “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman”. Reports initially suggested that her upbringing in impoverished rural India, where she reportedly only started eating proper meals in 2004, could be a factor behind the test result. She was also stripped of her silver medal.
Santhi fell into depression. In September 2007, Santhi was reported to have attempted suicide. But she bravely overcome all these setbacks and started sports coaching. On 30 April 2014, she became a qualified athletics coach. Yet her struggles were not over as she did not get a job.
On 29 July 2015, the Madras High Court directed the state government to consider her plea for relaxation in educational qualifications and help her become a coach at the SDA of Tamil Nadu. Finally, on 16 October 2016, Soundarajan was informed that the state government had decided to appoint her as a permanent athletics coach under SDAT. She received her appointment order on 20 December 2016. We salute her brave journey and wish this brilliant woman a very happy birthday.