Distance runner Aarthi Venkatesan will be one of the favourites when she lines up in the Medibank Melbourne Marathon this year.
The 37-year-old Brisbane mum of two only began serious running three years ago and made a major breakthrough to claim second in Australian Marathon Championships on the Gold Coast on July 6 in a time of 2:47.30.
Venkatesan has always enjoyed competitive sport. Her father Rabi was an Indian Davis Cup player and she was Australia’s top-ranked junior tennis player back in the early 90s.
“I was ranked No.6 in the world as a junior and I played (Martina) Hingis and beat (Amelie) Mauresmo back then,” she said.
“I then went to college in the US and we (University of Georgia) won the NCAA title, which over there is a really big thing.”
But tennis can be cruel and unforgiving on those not tall and blessed with major power and at 166cm and 48.5kg, Venkatesan faced a hard time bridging the gap between elite junior and WTA tour star.
“As I was growing up I think the game started to change, the girls were massive and had more power like the Williams sisters,’’ she said.
“Hingis and (Justine) Henin were pretty much the only two players that were about my size and they had that magical touch that made them extraordinary.
I didn’t have a huge serve and was more of a counter-puncher and just ran down every single ball.”
But if you think Venkatesan just changed her passion from tennis to running you are wrong.
For starters she works fulltime with her husband Brock Connolly as owners of the Sandgate Real Estate agency.
Venkatesan also wanted to be a mum, but some times in life there can be major adversity.
The couple’s first child Noah died at birth.
“He just came out dead. It was the biggest slap in the face. I was in shock for months. The doctors were very concerned for my mental health at the time and they wanted to put me on anti-depressant pills. But it’s how I came to running. It was like Forest Gump. I just wanted to get up and run. It was my way of coping,’’ she said.
“I lost little Noah and running was my salvation. It will obviously never completely heal me, but it has let me find a bit of inner peace with what happened.
“I take him (Noah) on every run and it helps me. Almost every kilometre I think of him. It helps me cope with the pain that hits you towards the end of the marathon.”
Brock and Aarthi were lucky enough to have two more children together - Austin, 6, and Savannah 4 - and she has gradually managed to find time to increase her training.
“I initially trained with Nikki Carroll and she gave me a foundation, but now my coach is Dick Telford,” she said.
“He’s one of the most inspiring men I know after my husband. He’s just been so positive. It’s really only the fourth year of training for me, so it’s early days, except I’m fairly old, so it’s hard to keep up with some of the younger ones.’’
As to the future, Venkatesan plans to run Melbourne this October, a race which she ran last year but was a tad disappointed with her time of 2:51.47.
“I really enjoyed Melbourne last year but I’d had a few problems going in with a bit of illiotibial band soreness and then I got the flu for two or three weeks,’’ she said.
“I’d also just changed over to Dick Telford, so it was quite a big change of lifestyle.
“On the Gold Coast I felt great throughout and it (the PB and second in the national title) really made me feel like I want to keep trying to reach for the stars.
“In Melbourne I’m hoping to get a little closer.’’