Whoever thought that women shy away from coming to grips with an extreme physical sport like wrestling clearly had not reckoned with Sonika Kalirman. Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar may have put the sport on the map with his bronze win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But had it not been for Sonika, this largely male akhara would not have been breached. Her father Chandgiram pehelwan did not go the traditional route when it came to his feisty six foot one inch daughter. He egged her on to grapple with the intricacies of the wrestling, his efforts culminating in her coming home with several medals like Asian women championship (junior) in 2001.
Her grit and determination so impressed many parents that they actually began sending their girls to the same akhara. If his daughter could do it, so could any girl with a dream, thought Chandgiram when he turned the akhara into a hostel for women wrestling aspirants.
“I saw Sonika in a fight at Talkatora stadium around five years ago. I thought if she can do it, why not my daughter?” says Raj Kishore Sharma, father of Ritu. She was a winner and after a stint in the akhara bagged the national schools championship a couple of months ago. The USP of the akhara is that with Sonika’s association, it is perceived by parents as a place where their daughters would be in safe hands.It is Sonika who deals with the nuts and bolts of training. “Earlier wrestlers had 12 minute bouts to fight which have been shortened to seven minutes only.
Dietary supplements are a must.” Many who have followed in her footsteps are doing India proud like Geetika Jhajjar and Alka Tomar.
The goal is unwavering -- an Olympics medal. True to form Sonika’s fiancé Siddharth Malik is a US based martial arts player. She will relocate after marriage, but not before she has left behind a potential team of world-beaters.
(Inputs from Priya Rajendran)