Strength of a Woman The Sports Stars

Mar 4 2019 11:34AM

Unlike the Phogat sisters of Dangal, Pooja Dhanda did not need a stern father to push her to train. She was more than willing, for she wanted to emulate her childhood idol from hometown Hisar-the Commonwealth and Asian Games medallist Geetika Jhakar. Initially, she too wrestled with boys. "Training with boys is good because they have more strength, stamina and speed, which helps us," she says.

Till she was 16, Pooja divided her time between judo and wrestling. It was Asian Championship winner Kripa Shankar Bishnoi who recommended she focus on wrestling. And in her father, Ajmer Singh, a Haryana Animal Husbandry Centre employee, she found her biggest supporter. "He still comes with me for early morning training and then heads to work at 8.30 am," says Pooja. "I dont think theres been a single competition where he has not accompanied me."

But it nearly came undone in November 2015. An injury laid her low and two knee surgeries and a protracted rehabilitation process kept her away from the sport for over a year. On her comeback, she first grabbed eyeballs at the Pro Wrestling League (PWL). In its third edition early this year, she recorded two wins over two-time world champion and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis and played a pivotal role in taking Punjab Royals to their second consecutive title.

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After a strong showing at international competitions in 2018-she won silver at the Commonwealth Games and is only the fourth Indian woman to win a medal (bronze) at the World Championships-Pooja became one of the only three wrestlers (Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat are the others)to get a Grade A contract from the Wrestling Federation of India.

It comes with a much-needed annual pay cheque of Rs 30 lakh for training. "There is a lot of hard work, but theres no popularity or money in wrestling," says Pooja, "because of which many good wrestlers have been injured and did not make much progress. The support of Tata Motors and WFI made it possible to get access to a physiotherapist, masseuse and foreign coaching."

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