Kottayam: The girl who works as a fuel attendant at a filling station at Thriprayar in Thrissur district epitomises everything wrong with Kerala's sporting ecosystem. P A Athulya has won four medals for the state, including a gold, at national school athletic meets, but she has not got any financial aid or support from the government and has to toil to eke out a living.
The 21-year-old Athulya was widely tipped as a future champion for Kerala in throw events, but her dream of conquering new distances in her chosen sport never materialised in the absence of support from any quarters.
A native of Nattika, Athulya was a dominant force at the state school athletic meets, winning seven consecutive gold medals in discus throw between 2014 and 2020. She excelled in other throw events as well as she went on to win a total of 20 medals at state-level meets. Her records in discus throw and shot put events in different age categories had remained unbroken for several years. Remarkably, the record in sub-junior discus throw, which Athulya set in 2014, is still being held by her.
Over the years, state school athletic meets have produced several future champions and many of them have achieved great success in the realm of sports. However, Athulya's story is different. She was a Plus One student when she last participated in the state school meet in 2020. In the following year, the meet was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. Although she won three medals at the 2020 edition of the meet, the state government's decision to take away grace marks in the wake of COVID-19 turned out to be a big blow to her as she failed in one subject by four marks in the Plus Two higher secondary examinations.
It forced her to give up on her sporting and academic dreams. As her family was in dire straits and struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic, she started searching for a job. As medal winners at national-level school meets are deemed ineligible to apply for a government job under the sports quota, Athulya had no other option but to accept any menial job on offer.
For the last 12 years, her family has been living in a rented house. After she returned home with medals from the national school meet, the local panchayat authorities had promised to build a house for the family. Though the panchayat had bought a 3.5-cent plot for the purpose nine years ago, the promise still remains on paper. The family's effort to find sponsors to build a house also did not materialise.
Her father Ajay Ghosh, an autorickshaw driver, was the sole earner of the family. When he stopped working after being diagnosed with a cardiac disorder, Athulya was forced to take up the job at the filling station.