Intersexed (transgender) Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: Santhi Soundarajan coaching Olympic champions

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People cannot choose what they are born with. There has to be sensitivity shown to Intersex conditions which occur due to medical causes. Shanthi Soundarajan has come a long way from winning the 800m silver medal in 2006, and losing the medal because of a failed gender test. Thereafter she tried to commit suicide because of insensitivity of the media.

We hope that she has followed the proper medical advise since and is back on track.

Shanthi Soundarajan weaving Olympian dreams all over again
2 January 2009
BANGALORE: A failed gender test cost Shanthi Soundarajan more than the 800m silver medal at the Doha Asian Games. Publicly humiliated and socially scorned, suicide seemed like a good option for the elder daughter of brick kiln labourers – Soundarajan and Manimekalai. Some nine months after one of the saddest stories in Indian sport unraveled itself on an international stage, the village belle from Kathakurichi consumed veterinary medicines in a bid to end her life.

It’s a story best forgotten, given that there are greater areas of darkness than light, except that Shanthi wasn’t born to fade into the night. When she got off her hospital bed in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai last September, head tonsured and heart filled with dread, she returned to the very track she dominated as a child, searching for the shards of her shattered dreams. In her new avatar as Tamil Nadu state-appointed athletics coach, she’ll be looking to conquer the same frontiers albeit with a different approach.

Two years after the Doha debacle and two years to go for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, the 27-year-old’s life has come a full circle.

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Shanthi has no desire to revisit the events of the last couple of years. She blocks questions on what were easily the darkest days of her life with evasive answers. “I had a lot of support from my family and friends. There’s no problem, everything is ok”, are her constant refrains.

However, she has no plans to return to the track. “I’ve stopped training. I’m not returning to the track. I’m happy coaching,” she said. When pushed for a reason, she replied, “They asked me not to run. After that episode I was asked not to run.”

Only Shanthi knows who “they” are. She will not tell and she won’t return to the track again.

Shanthi had few pillars in her life, and virtually nowhere to go in a crisis situation. Her success on the track was an escape from poverty for her seven-member family, parents and four siblings. Even though she has constantly brushed aside comments that her family was more interested in her purse than the direction her career was going in, especially after she was handed over a huge cheque by the TN government following her rags to riches triumph in Doha, the talk didn’t die.

She lives alone in Pudukottai now. The hour-long journey from Kathakurichi is difficult to do every day, more so because she begins putting her trainees through the pace as early as 6.30 am.

About a year ago, Shanthi approached the Tamil Nadu government for a job. She was immediately offered a two-year contract. Soon after, she started coaching at the Machevadi area government school. She now has 42 children (boys and girls), training under her in track and field events. Shanthi breaks up training into two halves – morning and evening sessions, lasting two hours each. Recently, she started her own academy – the Olympian Sports Academy.

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Shanthi credits TPM Mohideen Khan, the TN Sports Minister, for her return to the track. “I can go to him with any problem. He listens and he has always helped me,” she said.

The pick of Shanthi’s trainees is 14-year-old P Rani, a middle-distance runner like herself. When asked if Rani, who is already topping age-group events in the state, reminded her of her own talent, Shanthi laughed out loud.

“No,” she said, and then added after a long pause, “She’s better than me.”

While such sex tests are not compulsory for competitors, the International Association of Athletics Federations can request that contenders take such tests at any time, and include intensive evaluation by a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, and an internal medicine specialist. According to her coach, P. Nagarajan, her upbringing in impoverished rural India, where she reportedly only started eating proper meals in 2004, could be a reason behind the test result.

Media articles later reported that Santhi might have been born with an intersexed condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).This condition includes the existence of a ‘Y’ chromosome in women (typically only associated with a male genotype) and results in an inability to respond to Androgens. This unresponsiveness leads to a female body without female internal sex organs. Although the body produces testosterone, it does not react to the hormone. Despite such intersexed conditions being accepted in the Olympics over recent years, the Asia Games seem to have failed to follow confidentiality protocol, resulting in Santhi’s disqualification.
In September 2007, Santhi Soundarajan was reported to have attempted suicide, reportedly by consuming pesticide at her residence. The attempt was blamed on gender, economic, and sports pressure in India.

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