PT Usha: A small town kid who dreamed big & struggled hard to become an athelete

Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha, popularly known as PT brings a surge of pride among Indians as she was the toast of Indian athletics throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Her spectacular performance in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where she became the first Indian to reach the finals of the 400m hurdles, but lost the bronze by one-hundredth of a second, remains a shocking instant in many minds till date.

It being a stupendous achievement for an Indian, and a woman, in those days, many newborns were named after her in the country.

However, not many know that Usha’s life was not rosy enough and had many struggles. 

She hailed from a small village, Payyoli, in Kerala’s Kozhikode district where she battled constant sickness as a child. However,  her coach, OM Nambiar, has been instrumental in Usha’s rise to success, and she credits for her tenacity on the track.

On her birthday today, we pay tribute to the woman and athlete who has done us all proud with her numerous achievements and inspires and trains athletes at Usha School in Kozhikode, Kerala.

These are 10 ways in which the athlete inspires us with her life story and mission.

  • Usha, a small town girl with big dreams was troubled by illnesses as a child. However, she was noticed in school when she was Class IV student and was asked to run with the school champion (who was in Grade VII). She stood first, and the rest is history.
  • Her parents, Paithel and Lakshmi, were ignorant of athletics. However, her uncle asked her to pursue the sport as she could then get a job as a sports instructor. But PT Usha just ran way into the record books. She participated in the National Pakistan Games at Karachi in 1980 where she won the 100m and 200m. By then, OM Nambiar spotted her talent and took on the role of a personal coach.
  • She participated in the Moscow Olympics as the youngest athlete and then bagged two silver medals at the Asiad held in New Delhi in 1982.
  • The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles Usha lost the bronze medal by one-hundredth of a second. 
  • At the 1985 Asian Championships in Jakarta, she won five gold medals while she won four gold medals at the 1986 Asian Games.
  • She was called as Payyoli Express and a road in Kochi was named after her, and so were many newborns.
  • In 1991, she married N Srinivasan, a CISF inspector, and subsequently settled down to family life. The couple has a son, Ujjwal.
  • Usha, by end of her career, had won 101 international medals. She is now employed as an officer in the Southern Railways.
  • Usha also started the Usha School of Athletics in Kozhikode district in Kerala, an organisation dedicated to advancing promotion and practice of sports with state-of-the-art facilities.
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