Published: 25th April 2019
Meet sprinter Gomathi's first PE teacher, the woman who first gave her a shot to play sport
Christy Sahaya Vimala was Gomathi's first coach at the St Thomas Higher Secondary School in Nazareth in the Pudukottai district
After the 12 kilometre marathon, several participants fainted, some just collapsed as they reached the finish line, some rushed to the water bottles. And then there was the winner, who did not have the slightest trace of fatigue on her face. She didn't even rush for water, she just casually walked around. No one would believe she had just run a 12 km marathon and that's when Christy Sahaya Vimala knew that one day Gomathi Marimuthu would win a medal for the country.
Vimala was Gomathi's first coach at the St Thomas Higher Secondary School in Nazareth in the Pudukottai district. The very Gomathi who just won a gold at the 800 metres event at the Asian Athletic Championship at Doha. "I saw that she was very interested in sports and picked her to play kho kho. She was very good at it, of course but her stamina was simply unbelievable. So that's when I decided that she could participate in athletics too," Vimala said, with a broad smile.
So, Gomathi began to compete in the 1200 m, 800 m and 4x100 m relay races. Hailing from Mudikandam village, Vimala remembers that Gomathi would travel quite a bit just to get to school. She recalls that buses would only ply only during school hours and otherwise there were not too many buses that connected her home and her school. "So sometimes if there was an early sports event, then she would stay the night in my house because I lived close to the school," Vimala explained.
Proud Teacher: Christy Sahaya Vimala standing in the campus of St Thomas Higher Secondary School, Nazareth, the school where Gomathi first started athletics
Vimala recalls Gomathi as always having a very casual attitude, "Even when she won the 1200 m, she barely smiled. She just went about her work. She never made a big deal about anything," she added. Today, Vimala works in a corporation school in Madurai and she teaches English now and not Physical Education. But she says she will always remember 2004 - 2010, the years that Gomathi studied there, "We won every single sports event those few years, which is why those years will be unforgettable. And we won it all because of just one person — Gomathi," she said with pride.
After school, Vimala lost touch with Gomathi but said she would occasionally enquire about her through her friends. Then about five years ago, she said she had heard that she was training under a coach. "I was very happy to hear that but seeing her face in the paper is a whole other feeling. I didn't know till all my students from that school began to call me to tell me about Gomathi," she said. "They all kept calling me and praising me saying I was her first coach. I feel extremely proud of her. It was long overdue, I expected her to enter international sport long ago but I heard that she had to face a lot of personal losses and I felt really bad about that. She deserves every bit of the glory," she added.
Even though she's not met her in all these years, Vimala hopes to get the chance to meet her now. "It would be great to see her again, I hope she continues to do well," the proud PE teacher said.
Gomathi joined Holy Cross College in Tiruchirapalli in 2010 to pursue her BA in Economics. Like she was in school, in college too, Gomathi's teachers say that she balanced both studies and sports like a pro. "She was a very studious girl and in all the years that. She was also punctual, despite having to travel from very far away," Uma Rani, one of her Economics professors said. Gomathi would wake up at 4 am, go for her coaching and then go straight to class, when she finished classes, she went back for practise and only then went home.
Winner, all the way: After her thrilling win, Gomathi Marimuthu holds the tricolour proudly
"Despite coming from a very rural background and a Tamil medium school, Gomathi was quick to grasp and maintained her scores throughout," she added. Meena Seetharaman, who was her class teacher during her first year, was also all praise for the athlete, "She was extremely hardworking from the day she joined. She travelled about 40 km to and fro every day and we knew only later that she came from a family that was struggling to make ends meet."
She was an extremely down-to-earth and unassuming character, Seetharaman said about Gomathi. "There was always a fire in her," she added. Since the time the news broke out, Seetharaman has only been reading about Gomathi, "From the morning I'm reading every article, every news story about her. And I'm just so proud of her achievements. We knew she was good but we didn't expect her to go to such a high level. I've been able to do nothing else since morning, I'm just so thrilled," she explained.
N Vasanthakokilam, the Physical Education Director at the College, said "She would not miss a single session despite all the financial hurdles and social struggles she faced. This was not just practise sessions but also studies. She never cancelled a session," she said.
Asked if they were all waiting to see her, they all eagerly said 'Yes!'. Both in her school and her college, the students and professors are already preparing to welcome her back with a big bang. "We just want her to know that we are extremely proud of her. I don't know if this will ever reach her but I hope she knows that we are all crazy proud of her and she's brought the institute so much honour," Seetharaman said.