She had access to fields where running was fun. Learning to swim in a nearby pond was a regular feature too as Sakshi Chaudhary grew up in rustic Bhiwani. There was little to suggest the girl, who loved sport, would go on to become a boxer. It was not the preferred sport for girls in Haryana but times were changing when Sakshi realised she had the aggression to don boxing gloves.
Her aunt, Sunita Malik, recalls Sakshi’s resolve to pursue boxing. “She loved to play and would often take on her brother. Sakshi’s energy and strength were an indication of the innate talent that she possessed. I also noticed that she dominated her fights with the boys. I have seen her thrash a few. She was good at studies too but Sakshi found her place in sport. I think boxing came naturally to her,” says Sunita.
In order to channelise her energy, Sakshi was sent to the Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC) in 2012 where Jagdish Singh taught her the basics of the sport. “I was comfortable with boxing even though it was not a very popular vocation for girls in Haryana. I was determined to become a boxer and the early lessons at the BBC laid the foundation. Boxing became a passion,” recalls Sakshi of her initial days in the world of boxing. When only 15, Sakshi shot into prominence, emerging champion with a win over US National champion Yarisel Ramirez in the final of the AIBA World Junior Women’s Championships. This win, in 2015, encouraged her to work hard and climb the ladder of recognition.
For grandfather Dhoop Singh, who retired as a school principal, the success that Sakshi achieved was sweet because he was living his dreams. He had a few certificates to show for his excellence in athletics in 1962 as a college student, but Sakshi was looking at scaling greater heights. “My father defied all protests in the family to make Sakshi comfortable with her love for boxing. We stood behind Sakshi’s decision to become a boxer and I am happy we did that. She is among the top boxers of the country now,” says Sunita, who serves the sport as a ring doctor.
Locals remember Sakshi as a girl committed to achieve her best in boxing. It was a tough grind. “I loved running and swimming and also gained strength by cycling in and around Dhanana. Farming is the source of livelihood for people in my village and now they also rejoice in my achievements. I have got a lot of support from them,” says Sakshi.
A national champion in her weight category (54kg), Sakshi is progressing fast. At the recent World Youth Championship in Hungary she won a gold and repeated the feat at the Balkan Open in Bulgaria. She also won a bronze and a silver medal at exposure tournaments in Serbia.
In 2017, Sakshi bagged a gold at the World Youth Championship in Guwahati. “This is the feat that has convinced Sakshi’s coaches that she has the attitude of a champion. Having seen her progress all these years, I am now expecting her to make an impact at the senior level. She is working hard,” says Sunita.
Jagdish, from the perspective of a coach, had told Sportstar in an interview earlier that Sakshi was a good learner. “She is very disciplined and avoids all sorts of distractions. Her focus, strong will and confidence are her positive points.”
Coach Mohammed Ali Qamar, the first Indian boxer to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal, observes, “Sakshi is among the talented ones no doubt. But I would wait for her to perform in the senior category because there is a big difference in terms of competition between juniors and seniors. I know she is technically good and a sharp boxer. The future of women’s boxing in India looks rosy and there will be a lot of opportunity for them to improve.”
“My role model is Vijender (Singh). He brought a revolution in Indian boxing and he meant so much for every youngster wanting to do well in the sport in Haryana. He was the reason I took to boxing seriously. I was never scared of my opponents and this spirit I gained from watching some of the best boxers from Haryana. I also kept my focus on studies and tried to catch up with it at camps. I have learnt a lot from my father (Manoj Kumar). He has stood like a pillar in encouraging me to do well in boxing despite opposition from some quarters,” says Sakshi.
For Vijender Singh, the increased interest in boxing is an indication of the support that sportspersons receive in Haryana. “The culture of sport has undergone a huge change in Haryana particularly. There are more funds for sport in the state and an increase in jobs which is a huge relief for youngsters. I am sure the sports schemes are one of the reasons for someone like Sakshi to look for a career in boxing. I have heard about her in the boxing circles and her aggression in the ring. I am going to follow her progress. All I would tell her now is that this is just the beginning. I am happy the Boxing Federation of India is doing such a wonderful job of supporting the youngsters. We will surely make a greater impact in the years to come with youngsters like Sakshi showing the way,” says the celebrated boxer.
Sakshi, who was the first girl from her village to take to boxing, remembers the encouragement from her father. “He would ride 20km a day on scooter so that I could train at the BBC. We did the routine twice a day. I put in my best when I saw how my father was showing more faith in my abilities than even I did,” says Sakshi, a second-year college student at the Mahila Mahavidyalaya (Dadri).
It has been a journey of ups and downs for Sakshi with life’s lessons learnt the hard way. “I have lived an extremely disciplined life from the time I decided to make a career in boxing. I must rise at 4.30 a.m. and begin training at 5. After a bath and then some rest, I resume at 11 a.m. for a two-hour stint. In the evening, I have to train from 6 to 8. My life is just boxing. I can’t attend most family functions and can’t have the food of my choice, especially gol gappas . I have no time to watch movies or television,” says the talented boxer.
Sakshi acknowledges the support of her aunt. “She (Sunita) is my guide. Other than boxing, she also monitors my studies. She does not allow me to relax and that helps because there are times when one tends to sag. She ensures there are no distractions in my life.”
The first award Sakshi won was the ‘Best Loser’ in her first ever competition. From there she has come a long way to now being recognised as one of the best prospects for India in international boxing.
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