Chala santosham. Inka en kawali (very happy. What else do we need!)” is how Dhanalaxmi describes her daughter Deepthi Jeevanji’s golden run at the World Para Athletics meet in Kobe, Japan, where she won the 400 m T20 category race, smashing the world record. The special girl from Telangana’s Kalleda village, who was born with cognitive impairments to daily wage workers Dhanalaxmi and Yadagiri, has not only made her parents proud but has also made the entire country applaud.

“Feeling good, sir, I will come for training tomorrow,” was Deepthi’s response to her coach Nagapuri Ramesh when he spoke to her after the race, which she won in a world record time of 55.07 seconds. She broke America’s Breanna Clark’s world record of 55.12 seconds, set in Paris. 

Crossing many hurdles

The 21-year-old’s feat is an extraordinary achievement considering the twin hurdles of poverty, and intellectual impairment she had to overcome in her journey from Kalleda Village, about 170 km from Hyderabad, to Kobe in Japan.

Speaking to businessline, Ramesh Nagapuri, her coach at the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Gachibowli centre in Hyderabad, described how a number of people played a part in uncovering Deepthi’s sporting talent. It was her PT coach, Biyani Venkateshwaralu, in the Rural Development Foundation school at Kalleda village, who initially spotted her ability to outrank able-bodied runners in the 100m and 200m races. 

But Nagapuri describes how it took a lot of persuasion before Deepthi’s parents would allow her to move from the village for training. “They said they couldn’t afford it, and they were also hesitant to send their child to Hyderabad,” he says.

At this point, several organisations and people, including the RDF school, badminton coach Pullela Gopichand and the Lakshya Project of Eenadu, chipped in.  Nagapuri describes how initially he was not aware of her situation and was treating her like other students, but soon realised she was slow in her responses. “It was Gopichand who suggested we get her tested,” he says. At the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disability in Hyderabad, the extent of her intellectual impairments emerged.

Says Nagapuri, “A coach is mostly tough and aggressive, but with her, I learned to let go. I had to change my technique. Since she is unable to express her feelings, we had to be very watchful and tell her when to stop.”

Deepthi herself, who got to Hyderabad in the early hours of Wednesday, remained oblivious to her success and was waiting eagerly to see her parents, who will be reaching Hyderabad from their village on Thursday.