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Pulling her weight

It’s not often that you see a 23-year-old girl tackling a man who outweighs her and win against him. Hetal Dave is one such person. Not only does she put up a brave fight, she’s also nimble.

delhi Updated: Nov 06, 2010 23:02 IST
Ruchira Hoon

It’s not often that you see a 23-year-old girl tackling a man who outweighs her and win against him. Hetal Dave is one such person. Not only does she put up a brave fight, she’s also nimble.

As India’s only female sumo wrestler, Hetal has a slight advantage over the average Indian woman — she’s been trained to fight and weighs a cool 75 kgs. Which is perhaps why, six times out of 10, she can defeat her opponent when she’s practising, most of whom are men. “I have to practise sumo with men only because there are no women who want to play this sport in India,” says the champion. “And I think that’s a good thing, because it teaches me tactics on how to defeat someone who weighs more than me.”

For a conservative Brahmin Marwari girl, this is quite an unusual profession. But since her father has been completely supportive of her, Hetal feels she’s doing the right thing by pursuing this full contact sport. While she started early with judo classes at six, she decided to turn professional only three years ago. “I trained in judo for more than 10 years and would watch boys sumo wrestling. Often, I would defeat them. That’s when I realised this was something I was good at,” she says.

In her three years of turning pro, Hetal has been to quite a few sumo championships across the globe. Infact, she’s just returned from Poland where she participated in the 8th Women’s World Sumo Championship and stood fifth globally. Quite an achievement for someone who’s barely been in the game for five years.

Wrestling With Weight

For a game that barely lasts 20 or 30 seconds sumo, has very few takers in India. And that’s probably because not many know what the game is about. “Explosive power, that’s sumo,” says Cawas Billimoria, who has been Hetal’s coach for more than 15 years. “But people in India, have the image of a large Japanese person wrestling and cannot understand how Indians participate in this sport.” Which is perhaps why there are only a handful of sumo wrestlers in India. Especially since not many understand what the sport is really about. (see box)

A pure vegetarian, what sets Hetal apart from traditional sumo wrestlers is her weight. At five feet seven inches and 75 kg, Hetal can hardly be called obese. But since she fights in the middleweight category, Hetal has to stay under 80 kg, for which she feels her weight is perfect. “Muscular weight is what matters in sumo, because you have to be flexible and active,” she says. Cawas, however, is not very thrilled she’s playing in this category. “I’d like her to compete in the lightweight category for which she’d have to be 65 kg. She’s be perfect for it because of her strength training plus it would improve her marriage prospects, don’t you think?” says Cawas.

What lies ahead

Currently working as a self-defense and part-time Judo teacher at BJPC College and Walsingham House School in Mumbai, Hetal trains for three and half-hours daily.

Every morning, she trains in intensive cardiovascular exercises at the Oval maidan in Churchgate. It’s only late in the evenings that she practices her tackling moves, mostly with her brother, a sumo wrestler himself. “We both started together and she’s always in need of a partner to practise with,” says 20-year-old Akshay. “And it helps the both of us. She knows what it is to fight with someone who weighs more and I with someone who weighs less.”

The unmistakable pride with which Akshay speaks about his sister is hard to miss. “She’s really beginning to bring a name to the sport and it’s awesome to see how well she’s doing even though she is the only one from our country.”

So what does the future hold for Hetal? For starters, she’s not giving up any time soon. “In sumo, there is no age limit. You can fight for however far your mind and body takes you,” she says. But what she really wants to do is inspire more women in India to take up the sport. “I want to open a sports centre where girls can be trained in several self-defense forms such as judo and also learn martial arts like tai-chi and sumo,” she says. And for herself? “I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m playing in many more aments in the future. After all, I’m fighting for myself and my country.”

The art of wrestling

Sumo is a full contact sport which originated in Japan during the 16th century. Here two wrestlers attempt to force each other out of a circular ring called dohyo

Each game takes place in 20 to 30 seconds. Wrestlers are advised to conserve their energy for the fight

Sumo is not recognised by the Indian government as a sport n The first ever professional Sumo wrestling match in India will be held in IIT Mumbai in December 2010.