How a nudge by her college teacher sparked Pooja Rani's Olympic dream
Poised to make her first Olympic appearance in Tokyo next year, Indian boxer Pooja Rani is living her Olympic dream.
But if it wasn’t for a timely intervention of one of her lecturers from college, her life could have been on a very different track.
The 29-year-old became the first Indian pugilist to earn a place for the upcoming Games after beating Thailand’s Pornnipa Chutee in the 75kg women’s category quarter-finals at the Asian Olympic Boxing Qualifiers in Jordan.
The defining victory came on Women’s Day - March 8 - earlier this year and curiously, it was one of the women in Pooja Rani’s life who turned her towards boxing.
“I had no interest in boxing and wasn’t even aware of the sport. I was a basketball player. But during my college days, one of my lecturers (Mukesh Rani) - the wife of a boxing coach - spotted me and pushed me to compete in an inter-college boxing tournament.
“I was almost forced into it but ended up winning the silver medal in the tournament,” she revealed to wrestler Sangram Singh during a recent Instagram Live session.
“During my first match when my opponent attacked me for the first time, I looked at my lecturer and my coach and said ‘I don’t want to play, she’s hitting me,’” she recounted.
Despite the initial hesitations, however, the first match had already turned over a new page in her life. And after the bout, she was convinced by her coach to pursue boxing as a career.
An early challenge closer to home
Mukesh Rani, in fact, was the wife of Sanjay Sheoran – the son of Asian Gold medallist and Arjuna Award-winning boxer Hawa Singh, on whom a biopic featuring actor Sooraj Pancholi was announced earlier this year.
Sanjay Sheoran went on to become Pooja Rani’s mentor and like his wife, played a pivotal role in nurturing her into a successful boxer, even going beyond his duties as a coach.
While her chance encounter with boxing had convinced Pooja Rani, her parents were strictly against their daughter taking up the combat sport.
“My father wasn’t aware of my boxing as he was in Haryana Police and his duty was mostly outstation. When he came to know, he told me to stop going to boxing practice and play some other sport. I wasn’t happy with his decision.
“My mother was also against me boxing as she was afraid of me getting hurt,” she stated.
It took Sanjay Sheoran stepping in to resolve the issue and clear the path for Pooja Rani to pursue boxing as a career.
“My father was not interested in talking to my coach at first but later I convinced him. My coach assured my father that he will take care of me like his own daughter,” she noted.
Pooja Rani, who missed out on a spot for London 2012 and Rio 2016, is one of the nine Indian boxers to have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics next year.
At the qualifiers earlier this year, she got a bye in the first round and convincingly outmatched her Thai opponent 5-0 in the quarters to secure her place.