Three back-to-back surgeries, however minor, can be morale-breaking for any athlete but for boxer Sumit Sangwan, the lowest ebb of his career proved to be the catalyst for an Asian Championship silver and a World Championship berth.
Post a third surgery on his injured left thumb in 2015, Sumit merely had his maternal uncle Jitender Madad by his side at a hospital in Mumbai.
With Sumit’s worried parents in his thoughts, all Madad wanted was for his nephew to give up the big gloves and return home. If he himself was finding it difficult to see the youngster’s exhausted and groggy face, Madad wondered how would the parents react to the sight?
But as is the case in top-level sports, every success and failure boils down to the mental fortitude of the individual in question and Sumit decided that he had to fight this battle all by himself.
The battle, in fact, had begun much before the surgery, post the Commonwealth Games in 2014 to be precise, and it continued for more than a year and a half.
But Sumit, helped a bit by the usually dysfunctional system, pulled himself up to come back with a heavyweight silver medal at the prestigious Asian Championships in Tashkent recently, thereby qualifying for the World Championships scheduled in August-September in Hamburg.
“My uncle was scared to see me all groggy and pale after the surgery in Mumbai. It was the third surgery for the same injury and on the same thumb. The first one had failed, the second didn’t help either and here I was, for a third within a year,” Sumit told PTI in an interview.
“I was dealing with a fracture as well as a dislocation in my left thumb. My uncle told me ‘if I am so pained to see you like this, imagine how your parents will react. Just come home now, you don’t have to trouble yourself so much’,” he recalled.
But then what is a sportsperson without a freakish streak? Instead of paying heed to his uncle’s plea, Sumit decided not to go home at all, at least till he recovered.
“I went to Bangalore from Mumbai. I checked into a rehab facility to recover. I avoided going home because I did not want my parents to see me like this. I knew how they would react especially my mom. You know how mothers are. So, I decided to stay on my own,” Sumit said.
He wasn’t alone though as he found support of his long-time backers Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) and the Sports Authority of India (SAI). His is a rare instance of an Indian athlete speaking well about the much-maligned government machinery, which is SAI.
“They (OGQ and SAI) took care of me. My rehab was closely monitored and I used to travel to Patiala national camp as well. Everybody was so supportive of me, the then national coach G. S. Sandhu allowed me to train and made arrangements for my rehab in Patiala itself, whenever I came down,” he said.
“But obviously, there are battles you fight with yourself. I too fought those battles of self doubt but now I am in a happy space,” he said.
All of 24, Sumit has experienced the crests and troughs of international sports quite early in life. In 2012, he peaked to qualify for the London Olympics by winning the light heavyweight (81kg) gold in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers.
It continued to an extent with creditable quarterfinal finishes at the 2013 World Championships and the 2014 Commonwealth Games before his fortunes nosedived.
“Injuries were ruining me at that stage, there was no other factor, just injuries,” he said.
But once his body returned to full fitness sometime in the second half of 2016, Sumit decided to go up a division to heavyweight (91kg).
“It was not done on a whim, I consulted experts and came to the conclusion that maintaining 81kg was making me vulnerable to injuries. So, I spoke to a nutritionist and decided to move up because my bone density had increased,” he said.
He was to compete in the December National Championships in the new weight division but sustained a cut above the eye during trials. However, having fought through bigger injury battles, the minor setback did not affect him much.
“I have no complaints and neither do I feel unlucky. In fact, to be able to compete and win after so many challenges, I consider that a blessing,” he said.
Next up for him is the World Championships in Germany and he has figured out what he needs to work on to ensure that he goes a step further than the 2013 last-eight finish.
“I am a technically sound boxer. All I need is a bit of roughness in my game, essential for a heavyweight. So, I will be focussing on improving my strength and endurance,” he said.
For now, he is enjoying his break before the rigours of the national camp begin.
“Ghar mein ghuste hi mummy check karti hain ki sab parts theek hain ke nahi (The moment I enter my house now, my mom checks whether I am fine or not). Mothers I tell you, they are all the same,” he laughed.
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