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Hurrah for Holla!

With an indomitable spirit, the paraplegic sportswoman, Malathi Holla, fought great odds and found a place for herself in the sun.



Malathi Holla: die-hard spirit — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

TURNING POINT! There has been one in every one's life and career. For Malathi Holla, it was her father's words that changed the course of her life into one of glory and decoration.

The dreadful reality struck Malathi as a 15-month-old. Handicapped as a Post Polio Residual Paraplegic (loss of both the lower limbs), the prankster of a nine-month-old was soon destined to a fate of being strapped to a wheel-chair for life. Fifteen long years and 26 surgeries later, Malathi came out of the Ishwari Prasad Dattareya Orthopaedic Centre, Chennai, with a sense of gratitude and a degree of confidence. With basic education (S.S.L.C.) under her belt, Malathi returned to Bangalore and her family. It was when her father, late K. Krishna Murthy Holla, took his youngest child aside and advised: "look, there is a world beyond this...come out of the shell and approach life as you want it to be...,'' that Malathi's future turned on its head.

"At the Centre, there were inter-institution meets and such, basically to build your upper body....both as a form of exercise and as competitions. These meets opened the doors for me towards athletics," said the Asst. Manager with Syndicate Bank. At the Maharani's College, Bangalore, Malathi requested the then principal, Nagambal, to shift her classroom from the third floor to the ground floor. Having got her way bolstered Malathi's sense of self-confidence. From 1975 to 1981, Malathi was a regular at the National Games for the Disabled conducted by the National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped, Mumbai. She returned with a clutch of medals every two years the event was held.

It was her stupendous showing and commitment in these events at the State and National levels that earned Malathi a clerical post with the Syndicate Bank in 1981. Since then, Malathi has donned the Bank colours for various National and international competitions bringing laurels by the bagful. With strong shoulders and an inborn talent for achievements, Malathi was an instant success in the throw events - shot put, discuss (her pet event), and javelin throw. But medals came in the 100 metres wheelchair race and obstacle races too.

International recognition came Malathi's way, and with it, awards from 1988.

"It was at the Para-Olympics at Seoul (South Korea) in 1988 that I got my first exposure to international competitions. All the athletes (foreign) had personal coaches and trainers with them, and I finished eighth in the 200m, then," recollects Malathi. "But then, seeing those athletes during training, and going by the cassettes and adopting whatever I could observe was the basis of my training then on."

A quick learner, for Malathi it was a gold mine the following year in the World Masters' Games in Denmark, winning gold in 200m, shot put, discuss, and javelin throw.

At the Barcelona para-olympics, a 12th place finish in discuss throw sure did not please the achiever in Malathi, but in the Asian games in Beijing, in 1994, and at the FESPIC Games, at Bangkok (1999) and Seoul (2001) again, she was back among the medals.

The Arjuna award in 1996 and the Padma Shri in 2001 came, on expected lines, while the various state awards - Rajyothsava Award, Ekalavya Award, the Dasara Award, the Outstanding Disabled Sports Person in Public Sector Banks (1989), the K. K. Birla Foundation Award (1995-96) were bestowed on the unassuming lady in due course. Pratibha Rathna, the Great Indian Achiever Award (1999), the International Women of the year (1999) were all encomiums in her glittering career.

"I am leaving for Chennai in a couple of days to receive the "Women of the Year - Motivation Excellence Award" instituted by the Tamil Nadu Handicap Charitable Trust through the Tamil Nadu Government," said a beaming Malathi, who currently runs a home for disabled women and children, along with like-minded friends at K.R. Puram.

With 183 gold, 24 silver, and five bronze in a career spanning just over two decades, Malathi would make any able bodied cringe with envy, but with "don't succumb to circumstances, instead mould your life according to it" attitude in her, Malathi is living her life to the full.

"I want to coach today's disabled youth to glory," said Malathi, signing off before another hectic day in office.

AVINASH NAIR

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