Suma participates in a running competition at the "Quest for Gold," a three-day sporting event sponsored by Compassion's India office.
Suma loves to run. It doesn't matter to her if she's running down dusty streets, past neighbors in small, mud houses who wave as she passes by, or if she's running around a paved track where spectators cheer and wave handmade signs. When Suma runs, she is no longer a 13-year-old girl who goes to bed hungry. She is a gazelle.
"I Run to Win..."
Growing up the only daughter in a traditional Indian family in Machilipatnam, India, Suma has struggled to find her place in her family and community. That's because historically people in her village have placed little value in women and children. But her insecurity about her place in the world changed when she began attending the Sharon Child Development Center (IN-145), where she thrived in a community of love and support.
The nutritious meals the once-malnourished Suma received at the project gave her the physical strength to excel in athletics. With the support of the project workers she soon began entering and winning track competitions.
"In 2003, I won my first race, and that's when I thought, 'Here's something I can do,'" remembers Suma. "I had received no training at all I just ran and came in first. Slowly I gained confidence in myself. The next year I had some training, and this helped. When I run, I run to win."
A Way to Escape Poverty
Suma diligently continued her training, and soon she was ready for the "Quest for Gold," a three-day sporting event organized by 15 Compassion-assisted projects in India. Athletes are handpicked, and the competition highlights more than 450 competitors.
More than an athletic event, "Quest for Gold" gives budding athletes a chance to be discovered by recruiters from Indian schools who can offer them athletic scholarships. Such scholarships are priceless gifts in communities where half of all students drop out of school to help support their families. An education means they will make more than the $19 a month that many of their families must survive on.
The air was clear and hot as runners warmed up on the track following the competition's opening ceremony. Suma ran gracefully, her long lean legs toned after months of training. As the girls lined up at the starting line, Suma stared straight ahead, her body tense as she waited for the signal.
The crack from the starting gun rang in her ears as Suma began running. Her feet pounded on the dirt track, her heart beating hard and fast as she sprinted toward the finish line. Her side ached but she pushed ahead, determined to finish the race. Suddenly, Suma heard cheers as she felt crossed the finish line. "I won!" she thought as she massaged her throbbing side. "I won!"
Suma won first place in each of her three individual events: the long jump and the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints. Because of her hard work and diligence, she is now being trained by a Christian coach who teaches his athletes about spiritual values both on and off the track.
In a society where few little girls have dreams, Suma hopes to one day be a physical education teacher. She still runs through her neighborhood, but now she is followed by a line of children from the project. Though they struggle to keep up with her long stride, they have found a role model in this girl who found a reason to dream.
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