Wrestling is not for girls, Sudesh Malik told her 12-year-old daughter hell-bent on playing a sport considered a male preserve in India. Take up athletics, instead.
The headstrong girl couldn’t be coaxed out of her love for the sport she grew up watching in Mokhra, her ancestral village near Rohtak in Haryana. Her mother gave in, but always stood by her choice.
At 23, and after years of painstaking training, Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic wrestling medal; a hard-fought bronze in Rio de Janeiro early on Thursday.
“I guess it was during a school vacation I took Sakshi to Chotu Ram Stadium (in Rohtak). I wanted her to take up a sport. After a round of the stadium, I asked her if she wanted to join athletics. Sakshi said she wants to wrestle,” the mother said.
The surprised mother at first ignored her — wrestling is a male-dominated sport, and not for girls.
“No girl in our family had ever thought of wrestling,” said Sudesh Malik, a supervisor in the women and child welfare department.
She tried to discourage Sakshi, saying wrestling is a tough sport with a long training schedule that might hamper her studies and affect school grades. “She was good in studies, and I thought the fear of bad marks would scare her out of wrestling.”
But the little girl was immovable: “Mama please, please mama.”
Sudesh Malik said nothing deterred Sakshi from wrestling. “Eventually, I bowed to her wish. I thank myself for letting her do what she wanted to, or else we wouldn’t have had this proud moment to cherish.”
The mother took her to Chotu Ram Stadium Wrestling Academy every day, and the young Saskhi would train with the boys.
Sakshi also maintained a fine balance between sports and studies. She did her master’s in physical education, and scored good marks throughout.
“She scored 70% in the board exams and graduated with a first class. She has a first class for her master’s degree too,” the proud mother said as the family prepared to welcome Sakshi.
“I want to decorate the whole of Rohtak,” she gushed. Why not? The Maliks of Rohtak will welcome an Olympic champion.