Feature | Wrestling

Sonam Malik wrestled with paralysis to see out her destiny

After beating 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik in January, Sonam Malik is on course to become India’s next Olympic hopeful at Tokyo 2020.

By Sandeep Banerjee ·

Overcoming impossible odds to stay on course to sporting glory has been the mark of many a great athlete, and in this regard, Sonam Malik is no different.

Recovering from a right-arm condition that left her doctor with no choice other than suggesting she contemplate a different line of work, Sonam Malik re-set her career and is now on the verge of punching her ticket for the 2020 Olympics.

Sonam Malik was born into wrestling

Sonam Malik was born 18 years ago in Sonepat, Haryana. Her father Rajender was a wrestler during his sprightlier days before he turned to drive delivery vehicles for a sugar mill in their native Madina village.

From the young age of 12, Sonam Malik aspired to take up the sport her father was forced to abandon. In this effort, she began practising at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Sports Complex under the guidance of coach Ajmer Malik.

It wasn’t long before she experienced success on a major stage. Five years after she first aspired to take up wrestling, she found herself competing in the 56kg weight class at the 2017 Asian Cadets Championship in Bangkok.

Malik went on to bag the bronze medal in that event. She then topped that with her first of two World Cadet Championship gold medals later that same year.

Dreams come crashing down

However, soon after that early high came a low that threatened to nip her career in the bud.

A nerve issue in her right shoulder affected her arm movement to the point where the limb was in a state of paralysis.

“She couldn’t hold her arm up. She wasn’t able to grip anything with any strength. The diagnosis was that the nerves in her shoulder were simply not transmitting impulses down to her arm,” Ajmer Malik told Times of India, summing up her condition.

It was bad enough that even Sonam Malik’s doctor lost any sense of optimism. However, even though he advised her to look for another job. “The doctor said if it was in Sonam’s destiny, she would recover,” said her coach.

Destiny comes through for Sonam Malik

As it turned out, wrestling was indeed here to stay for Sonam Malik.

Despite her father being unable to afford premium healthcare in the big city, home-grown ayurvedic treatments did the trick and she was on the mat in six months.

“I think God wanted Sonam to be on the mat again,” said Rajender.

Making up for the lost time

Now competing in the 65kg weight class, Sonam Malik quickly went about regaining her form, winning bronze medals in the Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship in May 2018 and the World Cadet Wrestling Championships later that year.

She built on her success in those two championships the following year. After finishing runner-up in the 2019 Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship in July, she clinched her second gold at the World Cadet Wrestling Championship later that same month.

The road to Tokyo 2020

At the first national women’s wrestling trials of the Olympic year in January, Sonam stunned onlookers by beating 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik in a thrilling bout.

The win earned her a place in India's wrestling contingent for the Asian Championship, where winning a medal will earn her a berth for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers in March.

That rush was tempered somewhat by a disappointing senior category debut. Competing in the 62kg weight class, she could only manage an 18th-place result at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial.

“For now, I will only say that the win over Sakshi has given me an opportunity to represent India. Now, I want to establish myself in the Indian team. Asian Championships are crucial for me from that aspect,” she said.

Sonam Malik has so far successfully hopped over the hurdles fate placed before her, and there’s no reason to think she won’t stay on the course of her destiny.