Are women the weaker sex? Ask Jagdish Kaliraman this question at your own risk. Kaliraman, an international wrestling champion, who has represented the country 16 times and is a four-time gold medallist, trains women to be wrestlers from the age of 10 at the Chandgi Ram akhara in New Delhi. He doesn’t think gender has anything to do with a power game like wrestling. Started by his father, Arjuna Award-winning wrestler Chandgi Ram, the akhara has trained over 150 professional women wrestlers, many of whom have represented India in national and international championships.
Neha Rathi (25) is one such wrestler who trained at the akhara. She started training at 15 years. “Although my father is a wrestler too, he wasn’t keen that I take it up,” said Rathi.
At 20, however, her perseverance paid off. Rathi won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Championship in South Africa, in the 55-kg category. Last month, she returned from an international wrestling match held in Cuba winning a gold in the 48-kg category. She is currently training for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in October, and has her sight firmly set on the 2012 Olympics. Her father, clearly, made the right decision by letting her follow her dream. Many parents don’t, Kaliraman, points out.
“We still think wrestling is a male-dominated sport, and women can’t wrestle. Women who go to the gym think that weight training will make them look bulky. They couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Kaliraman.
Wrestling, says national chief wrestling coach PR Sondhi, is more a question of speed, strength, technique and quick thinking than muscle mass.
“Women aren’t delicate beings. With preparation and a good fitness regime, they can easily play this sport,” he said. “And one doesn’t have to be hefty to be a wrestler. They have to be fit, agile and capable of thinking on their feet.”
Take Rathi’s example. The diminutive 5’3” Rathi weighs only 52 kg, but she’s quick to point out that her weight has nothing to do with her strength. In fact, she adds, she has more speed and stamina now than when she was heavier. Currently attending a camp at the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports in Patiala, ahead of the 19th Commonwealth Games 2010, Rathi follows a gruelling schedule of strength-training and stamina-building exercises to stay fit. She hits the gym twice a week, does kushti every day for two hours, and cools off with games of volleyball and basketball.
All the 29 women at the Commonwealth camp are made to follow a strict protein and carbohydrate-rich diet, which includes plenty of milk, eggs, protein supplements and dry fruits.
Suman Kundroo (22), another wrestler who is attending the camp with Rathi is strictly vegetarian. She finds her nutrients in supplements and lots of milk. Kundroo, who started training at 17, went on to win a gold medal at the Asian Championships held in Kyrgystan in 2004. Weighing 65 kg, Kundroo does bench presses and squats with 80 to 90 kg weights. At the moment, she’s recovering from a disc slip injury but that doesn’t stop her from doing what she loves best — watching kushti and occasionally jumping on to the mat herself for about.