Running can be of two sorts. You can run away from something: hide under the sheets and wait for the opportunity to pass. You can also run towards: chasing those impossible visions, and find that their details become clearer with every step. Sruthi Menon’s running is of the latter variety.
6ft 3 inch Menon Sr loved playing volleyball and basketball, but gave these up in compliance with his parents’ wishes, for a stable nine to five job. As providence would have it, his lingering love for sports was passed on to his cheerful daughter. Sruthi Menon, born on 21st February 1996, was a standout athlete from an early age. She did her initial schooling at the Hillgreen High School, Pune where she dominated the 100 and 200 mtr sprint events. In fifth standard, she shifted to the Sardar Dastur Noshervan Girls School.
Sardar School, interestingly enough, made students compulsorily choose between two sports: karate and basketball. “I tried karate for a month but kept falling asleep. To escape, I chose basketball.” In reality, it was basketball that chose her. “Since I was an athlete, the nonstop running and shooting came naturally to me.” Her insatiable appetite for sprinting had her teammates chanting “bhaag Menon bhaag” (run Menon run) whenever she took to the court. School Coach Lalit Nahata realised he had a unique talent at his disposal. “He told me that the best part of my game was my ability to take long strides.” Sruthi was selected to the overall Pune district team that participated in a State level championship in Satara in 2008. A rude wake up call was around the corner.
“In the later stages of the tournament, for some reason I started missing all my shots.” Six of her Pune teammates, including school friend Aditi Kamble, made it to the under-13 Maharashtra state team. Sruthi was left out in the cold. “The disappointment made me work harder. I wanted to prove to the selectors that my omission was a mistake.”
Her efforts paid off. A year later, she was named in the under-14 Maharashtra squad that went on to win the School Nationals in Kolhapur. Sruthi now aimed higher. “Our school had produced a couple of international women’s players like Tanvi Shevade and more recently, Sneha Rajguru. Whenever they dropped by, they were always wearing India jerseys. Looking at them, I wanted one too.”
By this time, Sruthi had completed her 10th standard and joined the Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, Pune in 2012.
In any case, her real classroom was the basketball court. “I used to travel from Pune to Mumbai (a couple of hours away) and record the training sessions of Manisha ‘Tai’ on my mobile phone.” Manisha Dange, 33, is a veteran India player employed with Central Railway. Earlier this year, along with fellow Railway teammates Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Pauldurai, she secured India’s most memorable triumph at the international level, when it beat China to clinch the FIBA Asia 3X3 Championship gold. Sruthi got the incredible opportunity to play alongside Manisha Tai (‘Tai’ is Marathi for elder sister) and was also coached by her in the under-16 nationals. “I love her shooting. Her jumpshot is the best. I immediately started duplicating her freethrow and three point shooting drills.”
Sruthi would go on to represent Maharashtra in every age category (under-14, under-16, under-18 and senior). She had reached the pinnacle of success in Maharashtra basketball and aspired to be counted among the nation’s top juniors. “I was among the top 16 probables in the under-16 India camp in 2011, but got rejected.”
A year later, she fought her way into the under-16 Indian team that toured Yakutia, Russia for the Children of Asia Games in 2012. After playing negligible minutes in the first two matches against China and Russian Federation, both of which India went on to lose, Sruthi found herself on the bench yet again in the final league match against Mongolia. “In the second quarter, I asked Coach Nehra if I could get some playing time. He agreed and I got to play almost three quarters because I was performing so well.”
Earlier this year, she toured with the Indian team to Cyprus for the World School Championships. Her immediate goal now is to make it to the under-18 Indian team for the next FIBA Asia Championships tentatively scheduled for June 2014.
Despite being only in the 12th standard, she is well aware of her career options. “I can get recruited by Indian Railway or MTNL, as they are the only corporates to offer employment to women basketball players. I wish other companies like ONGC and Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) start women’s teams as well (as of now they only have men’s teams). Thankfully, private companies like Honeywell and Mahindra have also started recruiting sportspersons.”
Only time will tell if Sruthi can evolve into a formidable force at the senior level. Pure athleticism won’t suffice and she will have to continue working on her skills. “My parents have taught me to never give up. I’m ready to sacrifice further studies for basketball.” Whatever transpires, one thing is certain, Sruthi Menon will never stop running towards her dreams. BHAAG MENON BHAAG!