Vijender Singh won a bronze medal in boxing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The pugilist now has had a successful career in professional boxing.(Illustration: Malay Karmakar)
Vijender Singh won a bronze medal in boxing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The pugilist now has had a successful career in professional boxing.(Illustration: Malay Karmakar)

Dear Me: Soon you will realise boxers like getting hurt - Vijender Singh

Vijender Singh, ace professional boxer and 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, tells his younger self that he should be ready for getting hurt.
By Vijender Singh
UPDATED ON AUG 11, 2017 04:31 PM IST

Dear 13-year-old Vijender,

I know there is nothing good about this morning. Your limbs are sore. You feel like quitting. You feel like you aren’t cut out for this but hang on, these are early days.

I know you will get over this. You have been a fighter since childhood, you will never give up. Remember, it was your decision to take up boxing.

As you grow older, the word ‘remember’ will become an integral part of you. Whenever you have doubts, you’ll reboot by remembering things or words of wisdom from your family, friends and coaches.

You are just 13 but have already made up your mind to make a career out of boxing. The reason: you have heard people say that ‘doing well in sport gets you a job in the police or the army’. Your grandfather, a boxer himself and retired army personnel, will tell you that ‘boxing is easy’. It will help you make up your mind.

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I know for a brief moment you had thought of taking up gymnastics. To check out what the sport is about you even went to Bhim Stadium in Bhiwani. But you thought this was difficult and remembered someone saying, “if you take up gymnastics, you won’t grow tall.”

So boxing it is! You see the boys training at Sports Authority of India (SAI) hostel near your school in Bhiwani. You will approach coach Jagdish Singh to allow you to practice with them.

That will be the easy part, the difficult one will be to buy headgear and gloves. Even at 13 you know your parents won’t be able to afford it. So, you will ask the coach for permission to use the hostel’s gear. He will agree because he has seen a spark in you.

Over the next few days, you will impress the coach so much that he will tell you to attend all three training sessions held daily. Rarely will the gloves be off from now!

And your life will change. No more loitering with friends. For next few years your routine will be: leave home early, train, head to school, return to training, get back to school, take part in the evening’s training session before heading home. You will be exhausted but after some initial trouble, you will start enjoying it. The only thing you will now want to do is box.

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Your parents, both somewhat taciturn, will be supportive. At the same time, they will remind you the importance of education as a fall back. In Haryana, taking up sport is a big thing and deep inside they will be happy for you.

Soon you will start participating in tournaments. In one of them you will hurt yourself --- a deep gash on the eyebrow that will need stitches. It will shock you and mom’s eyes will be welled with tears on seeing you with a bandage. But she won’t show much emotion, she never has.

You too will hide your state of mind from her. Had mom known how you had felt then, she would have asked you to give up. Later, getting hurt won’t bother you. In fact, you will realise that boxers like getting hurt.

Very soon, you will take part in state and national junior competitions but success won’t come easily. You will lose many bouts and doubts will start creeping in.

And then you will remember what your father had said. “Don’t worry, it’s part of the game, you will win the next time.” But at no point will he push for your selection because young man, you have to make it on your own.

But his advice will free you of doubts and keep you positive. The hard work will pay off; your first gold medal will come at the 2000 junior national championships. Soon, you will be part of national camp and things will start looking up.

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The turning point of your career will come during a preparatory camp in Germany in 2003.

India will send two teams, you’ll be part of the ‘B’ team and you will beat a boxer from the ‘A’ team. Now, people will start taking notice. You are just 18 but your skills will match those who have been boxing at the senior level for years.

From 2003, your career will skyrocket. You will clinch the senior national title, be adjudged ‘Best Boxer’ and be in contention for a berth in the Afro-Asian Games. Chief coach GS Sandhu will be reluctant but you will prove him wrong by making it to the squad and winning silver.

You will qualify for the Athens Olympics. You won’t go far but the experience will strengthen your resolve to make it big.

Soon after Athens, you will achieve the target for which you took up boxing: getting a job. You will be recruited as a ticket examiner by the North Western Railway.

From 2006 to 2010, you will be the face of boxing in India. It will start with a silver at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. In the same year, you will win bronze at Doha Asian Games. Then the big one will come -- a medal at 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It will be a bronze but the colour won’t matter to you as you know how many hours of training you had put in to reach this stage. And it will be a first for boxing in India.

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The rush of medals will continue. You will win bronze at 2009 World Championships in Milan. It will be followed by gold at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, bronze at 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and silver at 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

During this period, you’ll also get the Arjuna award, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Padma Shri. You will walk the ramp, act in a movie and feature in a commercial. Unlike when modelling helped you buy protein supplements, this time people will want you because you are star. By then, you would have become a Crorepati with the state and national governments announcing huge sums as reward for bringing laurels to the country. But through it all, you will remember your parents’ advice and stay grounded.

Yours,

Vijender

(AS told to Rajesh Pansare)

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