Miss Unstoppable: The inspiring journey of 87-year-old athlete from Chennai
The doctor is asking her to slow down, and she is not listening to him. That is 87-year-old Theresa Arokiaswamy for you: A lady who would have her life defined rather by her dreams than limitations. The positive attitude is working for her.
Last month, she had a haul of two golds at the 43rd National Masters’ Athletic Championship organised by Masters Athletics Federation of India in West Bengal. This performance contributed to her selection for 22nd Asia Masters Athletics Championships, to be held in Philippines.
For her age category she has clocked a record timing in the 400 metres. For someone diagnosed with third stage cervical cancer in 2000 and kidney failure in 2017, Theresa has come a long way.
Following her cancer diagnosis, doctors had a grim forecast for her.
“They said she would not be able to walk; they said there was no hope for her,” says Arulappa Premkumar, one of her three sons.
Theresa underwent treatment at Adyar Cancer Institute “I should not die in bed was amma’s steely resolve,” says Arulappa.
Her life seemed to be touched every day by a magic wand until 2017 when misfortune arrived in battalions.
In that year, she first lost her husband and then she was diagnosed with kidney failure. “Again doctors gave up hope; they said even the option of dialysis was not open to her,” says Arulappa.
Relatives were informed, and they gathered around her hospital bed.
“Fortunately, amma had no plans to leave us,” says Arulappa.
Following that, she got hooked on running — a video of senior athletes running has triggered the desire to be on the tracks.
With her sons taking her to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium she got to interact with super-achieving seniors on the masters circuit, most notably Daisy Victor and Walter Devaram.
A coach from Perambur, Anthony G, was assigned to her. In 2018, she bagged a gold and two silver medals at the state level meet.
Only before a major tournament does Theresa practise at the grounds.
At other times, she practises at a track created for her at her house in Tambaram. “Initially, I helped Theresa with her running movement, arm action and stamina, the rest has come to her naturally. Her will power and love for athletics is helping her surmount all medical issues,” says Anthony, who coached the senior citizen during the early years.
Since 2022, Theresa been on a winning spree, bagging medals at district and state level tournaments. When this journalist spoke to her recently, she was getting ready to go to the hospital for some stomach-related ailment.
“Amma tells she wants to die in the tracks, and not in the bed,” says Arulappa.
“She refuses to accept her ailments and the confidence that comes from winning all these tournaments keeps her going,” says Arulappa.
Theresa often uses public transport to get to Avadi, Guduvancherry and Tambaram where her sons stay. She eats little but needs something special on the menu.