Wednesday, 14 April, 2021

Santoshi’s motto on track: I never believe in slowing down


By Pramod Joshi
Kathmandu, Apr. 5: For Santoshi Shrestha, the first Nepali woman to win gold in international athletics, consistency is the key to success.
Had she not continued running, Shrestha would not be where she is today. She would not have multiple national titles to her name, she would not be the national record holder in the 5K race, and she would not have achieved her photo-finish win at the women’s 10K race in the 13th South Asian Games.
Had she not continued running, this girl from Jwalamukhi, Dhading, would not have etched her name as a legend in Nepali athletics.
However, she did not choose to run. Looking back, one cannot help but wonder if it was fate that thrust her into the path that she would end up thriving in. Because, if things had gone her way, she would never have entered sports at all. “In school, I only participated in activities related to reading and writing. I was too shy to enter sports,” Shrestha harked back to her childhood with The Rising Nepal. “However, because I walked fast, my friends encouraged me to participate in a running competition that our school had organised. First I registered, but later my diffidence got the best of me and I tried to withdraw.”
However, there were not many girls participating in the competition, so the school decided to fine any female student trying to opt out of the race. This meant Shrestha could not pull out. She had to run and by golly, run she did. Shrestha won the race.
“I was shocked because I had never competed in such events before. I also did not have proper running shoes. Yet, I won,” she exclaimed. “This made me realise that you never know your capacity until you try.”
After that, she ran every chance she got. Every free moment she had, she ran. “On weekends, my friends would be at the cinema enjoying movies; I would be on the road running.”
But her free moments were starting to get fewer and far between. As she climbed grades at school, her workload increased and running, along with other interests, had to take a backseat. However, leisure returned to her life once she joined college for her Bachelor’s degree.
“After high school, I had the time to start running again,” Shrestha said. This gave her regular practice and she got better, despite not having received any formal training.
However, life got in the way again. She had to choose between her education and running and she naturally chose education. After her Bachelor’s, she started working as a full-time public health researcher and joined a Master’s programme.
But her drive for continuance kicked in. She could not leave running: she had to see her passion through. Shrestha had to continue. “I told myself that the compromise had to end. I had to make a bold decision, make a sacrifice. So, I quit my job and studies and decided to devote myself to running.”
Shrestha, who was fully self-taught up until this point, decided to try to go pro. She started regular training with Coach and former Olympian Raghu Raj Onta. Her extraordinary performance in the eight national games secured her a spot in the 13th South Asian Games and the rest, as they say, is history.
It is worth noting that Shrestha’s success came despite and not because of society. The people around her did not hesitate to remind her that she was a woman at every point. She was told, on multiple occasions, that her gender contradicted her interests. “I was asked to walk slowly because running is not becoming of a lady. I was asked to quit darting because I would not look feminine. I was told that running would risk uterine prolapse and I would not be able to bear a child.”
Shrestha takes it all in stride though. She believes those comments came from ignorance and she never let them discourage her.
Shrestha’s aim is to compete in the Olympics. She also wants to win a medal for Nepal at the Asian Games. "I have to work much harder and achieve many more titles to reach there." 
But Shrestha’s ultimate focus in life is to live satisfied and happy. "I don’t want to look back and regret not pursuing my dream. Happiness and satisfaction are what matter in
the end."