As Haryana awaits the return of the state’s pride, Sakshi Malik, her mom and her coaches get chatty with us about her journey into becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal.
Before leaving for the Rio Olympics, a note on 23- year-old Sakshi’s photograph said, ‘I will win’, according to Mandeep, Sakshi’s coach. For twelve years, Sakshi’s life has been about wrestling, her studies and compensating that with rest, says Mandeep, who began training her in 2010.
He says, “Her confidence and her fighting spirit used to give us confidence as well and keep us motivated. Uske parents ne uska bahut saath diya (Her parents gave her a lot of support). In the beginning, we used to train the boys and girls separately, but she insisted that she be trained with the boys. Seeing her, the other players used to get motivated as well. Double leg attack, is her favourite mode of attack.She has worked extensively on it all this while. Har ek bout mein usne usko use kiya (She used the leg attack in every bout). ”
Rohtak’s Sakshi Malik was a mere 13 years old when she started wrestling, says her mother Sudesh, recalling her stupendous journey that led to India’s first medal at Rio when she won her 58kg freestyle bout against A Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. “We are very proud of her achievement. It’s a very proud moment for us as it’s come at a time when the country was yearning for a medal.”
From accompanying her daughter to her practice sessions at Chotu Ram stadium (in Rohtak) every day where she would train with the boys to making sure her daughter’s diet compensated her strenuous training, Sudesh has been one doting mother. “She was in class eight when she said, ‘Mummy mujhe games khelni hai’, maine kaha padai karo pehle (I want to take up sport, I said concentrate on your studies). When I took her to a stadium nearby and showed her different sports such as badminton, gymnastics, she said she was only interested in wrestling. I told her that it required a lot of hard work and physical fitness, but she was persistent and said she’d study alongside her wrestling. Usne tabhi decide kar liya ki woh wrestling hi karegi (She decided right then that she would take up wrestling),” she said.
“Sakshi trained more than six hours a day. Three hours in the morning and evening. I made her diet chart to ensure that she consumed food in right portions. Kis time sona hai aur kis time jaagna hai, woh schedule woh apne aap bana leti thi. Jab woh aaram karti thi din mein, toh hamare parivaar mein kis ki himmat nahi koi awaaz kar de (Whether sleeping or waking up, she made her own schedule. When she rested in the day, no one dared disturb her).”
Ishwar Singh Dahiya, Sakshi’s coach, who has been instrumental in introducing women’s wrestling in Rohtak, says he faced a lot of opposition when he started training women wrestlers back in 2003. “Log kehte the ‘kabhi aapne sher aur bakri ko ek ghaat pe paani pete dekha hai. Mere liye ladka aur ladki dono barabar hai, main shuru se hi manta aaya hoon (For me the men and women have always been equal). I started training Sakshi in 2004. She has always shown consistency in her efforts and has always been very sincere and showed great grit and determination throughout her journey. The best thing about her is that she continued her education and managed both really well. Par hamara system aisa hai, jab result aate hai, tabhi bacho ko puri madad ke liye aage aa jate hai, use pehle kitni kathinayiyon ka saamna karna padta hai (Our system is such, people rush to help these athletes once they deliver results, but they face so many difficulties before they can get to that point),” said Dahiya, who retired as District sports officer.
“Initially there was a lot of pressure from the society. People used to say ‘ki ladkiyon ko kushti nahi karvaani chahiye (You should not make girls wrestle)’. But I never paid heed to such things as she wanted to become a wrestler. Today nobody says that a girl can’t wrestle. We are happy that Haryana government encourages sports in the state through awards and remunerations,” adds Sudesh.
“Now she’d work hard for Tokyo 2020. Jo uski kamiya reh gayi hai woh unpe kaam karegi aur gold le ke aayegi (Whatever her shortcomings, she’ll work on them and come back with gold),” she hopes.