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Farm to track: Sneha sprints from obscurity to national reckoning

Roadblocks, however, threaten to derail the progress of the country's number-one ranked sprinter.

Farm to track: Sneha sprints from obscurity to national reckoning
With wins at the Federation Cup and the Indian Grand Prix-3, Sneha is now in prime form. (Photo credit: ARN Sports)

Rahul Kargal

Published: 13 Jun 2024 8:56 AM GMT

Bangalore: Overcast skies and relatively pleasant conditions greeted the women at the starting grid of the marquee 100-meter dash at the Indian Grand Prix-3 on Wednesday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore.

As the gun sent them on their way, one woman stood out, leading the pack through the entirety of the race. And just as soon as she clipped the tape to win the sprint with a personal and season's best of 11.41s, Sneha SS touched the turf in gratitude and heaved a sigh of relief.

It was an acknowledgement of the years of back-breaking work, one that began in rural Karnataka.

Raised on a farm

Born in a family of farmers in Shanuvalli village in Karnataka's Chikmagalur district, Sneha showed early signs of physical strength as a child.

"My father is an areca nut farmer and I used to help him during the harvest season," she said, in a conversation with The Bridge, soon after her race.

A naturally gifted athlete, Sneha starred in school meets at the junior and high-school level. With raw explosive power, the then-teenager was hard to ignore and was scouted to attend university on a free scholarship at the SDM College at Ujjre in coastal Karnataka.

Success came soon after, both on and off the track, and Sneha shifted base to Kerala for higher-education. At the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, she continued to hone her skills whilst pursuing a Postgraduate programme in Commerce.

Thereafter, the Alva's Education Foundation in Mudbidri would take her under her wings. Buoyed by the training facilities and a stipend to cater to her needs, Sneha bagged a first all-India medal.

Since then, there has been no turning back.

At the 2023 National Games, Sneha stunned onlookers by clocking 11.45s for a gold-medal. And at the 2024 Federation Cup held at Odisha last month, she stamped her authority with yet another pole-position finish.

Clearly, the number-one ranked sprinter in the country is primed to take the next big step. That said, roadblocks threaten to derail her progress.

Mounting expenses

"I'm unable to train systematically," said Sneha, with a grimace on her face. "Food and supplement expenses are high and eat into my monthly bill."

Needless to say, nutrition plays a huge role in the development of an athlete. A balance of protein and essential minerals aid muscle recovery and performance. This, however, comes at a premium.

"I spend roughly INR.700 per week on fruits alone and about INR.10,000 per month on supplements. After meeting these and my livelihood expenses, there's barely anything left," she said.

Food aside, there are the all-important spikes, a vital tool in a sprinter’s arsenal.

A quality pair costs no-less that INR. 23,000 and with good care and competition-only usage, last barely six months. Therefore, saving the best pair for the meets would mean that when in training, it is always the older pairs that are put to use. Not ideal by any means.

Also, there is the need for a physio, to aid speedy recovery and prevention of injuries.

"I cannot even think of that right now due to the costs," she said, with a shrug of her muscular shoulders.

But there is hope in the form of a job.

Six-months ago, Sneha landed a job with the Income Tax department as a Multi-Task Staff (MTS). This offers the 26-year-old a much needed fillip in the form of a monthly salary.

That said, when she does travel across the country for athletic meets, the expenses come first, after which, there is a long wait for reimbursements.


"If I have to perform at meets, I must stay in an air-conditioned room. When I won gold at the Federation Cup in Odisha, to beat the heat, I booked a room that cost INR.1,300 per night for three-to-four days and it stretched my budget limit," she said.

Athletes employed with public-sector establishments have to abide by strict guidelines levied by their employers.

This normally translates to expenses limited to the cost of a 3rd tier A/C train ticket and intra-state travel by government buses only, with no reimbursements for tickets from private bus operators. And should an athlete decide to take a flight, the excess amount is always borne by the athlete.

And then there is the seemingly endless wait for the reimbursements to come through. Several athletes have traditionally sought speedy disbursements of expense-claims but the turn-around-time isn't always ideal.

Sneha, though, remains undeterred.

With single-minded focus and steely determination, she continues to conquer obstacles and has now set her sights on cementing her spot as the best in the country in the 100-meter sprint.

And if she does succeed, the already inspiring story of this farm-girl turned sprinter, will truly be a remarkable one.

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