At the beginning of Class X, Srushti Haleangadi started receiving unsolicited advice from neighbours, friends and relatives, urging her to study and forgo all distractions for the crucial academic year. Yet it was at that very point last year that the upcoming table tennis star was called up for her first stint in the U-15 national camp, which promised international exposure. Srushti decided to follow her elder brother’s advice from several years earlier: “The 10th exams are over-hyped. They aren’t that hard.”
And so the 15-year-old went about her business, touring overseas as part of the Indian contingent, only to return and secure a whopping 98.20% in her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) Examinations — the third highest in Mumbai and fifth in Maharashtra for the year.
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What makes her feat all the more spectacular is that Srushti spent just 20 days at school during the entire year. “She would take her books along with her wherever she went. She would study during flights and sometimes at the airport,” says her mother, Hema.
In her first journey abroad, the Mumbai girl managed to win a bronze at a Bangkok-based junior event. Following that, she became the only player from India to be selected for Team Asia in the World Cadet Challenge in Egypt. She won bronze in the doubles and team events there. Later on, she claimed three medals in Adelaide, Australia, representing the Indian School Team at the Pacific School Games — silver medals in the girls singles and girls team event, and a bronze in the mixed doubles.
All through her events, she never felt like she had compromised on her academics. “I was studying quite often, even while on tour. So I didn’t really feel that I was lagging,” Srushti says.
At the turn of the calendar, Srushti had just the first two months of 2016 before the exams in March. “That’s when I stopped playing and focused on my studies and nothing else. That was always the plan,” the teen says.
When the crucial days did come, Srushti remembers feeling unusually calm. “The papers went well and I was expecting no less than 90 percent. But then I got 98.2,” she says, laughing. “My score has made my classmates envious. You know, my brother was right, those exams really aren’t as difficult as they’re made out to be.”