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The first day of training, I came back home with blood all over my face | By Nikhat Zareen

The first day of training, I came back home with blood all over my face | By Nikhat Zareen

Nikhat Zareen

Published: 9 March 2018 3:21 PM GMT
Growing up in a family of four daughters in the house, I always had one constant question. I kept wondering why girls were not encouraged to take up sports more. For us, life was a constant. It used to be confined to the four walls of our house. Outside of school, the only world we knew was the one where girls had their roles fixed. Anyone who tried venturing out of these specific spheres was subjected to thorough scrutiny by the society. My father was a cricketer and an athlete growing up. But to say that he was my first introduction to a life of sport would be wrong. Unlike me, he was the eldest in his family. An active life of sport during his time was equivalent to having a no fixed income. In India, if you are the eldest child in the family, you are obligated to fulfil specific responsibilities. If you fail, you become the brunt of all jokes within the family and, let's face it- that's the last thing anyone wants.
It hurt my father's pride that no one in his family supported or even attempted to understand his seriousness towards sports. Sports had let him down by not giving him back the same passion and loyalty he had shown towards it. So, he made a decision. Games, for him, came to be a symbol of struggle and ridicule. No child of his would ever be at the receiving end of that. So, growing up, our lives were restricted to just school, academics, and household chores. Both my elder sisters were pushed to a life of studies. But there was one thing my father had not accounted for in his efforts to keep us from sports. If you are meant for greatness, it is somehow going to find you. More often than not, you do not necessarily have to go looking for it. When I was around 11, my father was posted in Saudi. Since I was still a child, my classes at school finished earlier than my sisters' and I had to wait for them so we could all go back home together. It was during this time that the various sports teams in our school practised. It was during this time that I was introduced to sports. Also read:
I was the only girl competing and playing with a pack of boys
Initially, it was Athletics which caught my eye. On a whim, I decided to run a 100m race with my classmates who were in the school team one day. Somehow, I ended up defeating them. The trainer in my school was shocked. "How did you do that without training?" was his first question. I had nothing to say to him. I was more worried about what my father would say when he found out. Slowly, I started representing my school in higher level tournaments. I played inter-school and district. During this time, I had taken my mother into confidence regarding my daily trysts with the sport. But it wasn't until my father returned to India that he found out. My school's Physical Education teacher, his batchmate, told him. "She is just like you", was her feedback. To my surprise, he showed no anger. Just pleasant shock mingled with a certain amount of pride. I knew then and there that his hopes and expectations from sports were not completely gone. He may have suppressed his passion for most of his life, but it just took a second of validation for his faith to be rekindled again. I would now do what he could not. My locality had a boxing centre. On one occasion, I was passing by with my father, and I noticed some boys training there. I looked carefully; I studied the crowd more than once. There wasn't a single girl among them. I put this observation to my father. "Boxing isn't for girls," he replied. "What if you get hurt?" My father seemed to have disregarded my conviction and defiance. Slowly, but steadily, I convinced him to let me take up boxing. His reluctance had more to do with a concern for me hurting myself than his unwillingness to let me take up boxing. Eventually, he agreed. Convincing my mother was a bigger challenge. The first day of training, I got punched so terribly hard. The boys in the academy had never imagined that they would be training with a girl. They were having the time of their lives because, initially, I was such an easy opponent. But I grit my teeth and never complained. The harder they fight, the better I'll learn to fight back- I told myself. The first day, I came back home with blood all over my face, the result of a particularly strong punch from one of the boys. My mother took one look at me and started crying. "If you continue like this, who will marry you?" she wailed. I remember laughing and telling her to have patience. "I am going to excel so much, there'll be a line of boys waiting for me," was my reply. "You just wait and see."
Slowly I started getting better. The very boys who could knock me out within seconds of entering the ring now were surprised at how determinedly I fought back. Eventually, they stopped laughing. With time, I even started defeating them during training. Now they became the butt of jokes about losing out to a girl. Can you see why this was problematic? It hurt a boy that a girl defeated him- a girl who is characteristically classified as weak, frail. They were scared that I had shaken their very understanding of women. That was my first victory. I cannot explain how good it feels to break stereotypes I would say the most significant tournament of my international career was the first one. In 2011, I travelled to Turkey to participate in the Junior World Championships. My opening bout was with a girl from Russia. The team I was visiting with had written me off. They were already shaking their heads in apparent defeat mumbling about how tough the Russian opponent was. I simply had no chance. You know, the harder I tried to have confidence in me and my training, the more I kept listening to them. Before my fight, I had also lost hope of all victory. Then I entered the ring, and nothing else seemed to matter anymore. I forgot the moments of self-doubt. I forgot how strong she was. At that point, all that mattered was the time I spent in the ring. Ultimately, all that ever matters is the quality of boxing that you display during the bout. That match with the Russian ended in me knocking her out. And that taught me the power of self-belief. I eventually won Gold in my weight category. Also read:
Being a gymnast is not easy. You live in constant fear.
Once I started winning medals in international competitions, the attitude of people towards me changed and encouragement started pouring in. Throughout my journey, constant support has come from my family and JSW. Somedays you just need to decide to do well. It doesn't matter if the odds are not in your favour. It doesn't matter whether or not your opponent is tough. You just decide to keep fighting until you drop; to never give up. That's how you succeed. That's how you achieve greatness. It's been quite some time for me in this sport. Till today, I have never been able to understand why women are not encouraged to take up boxing. Even if you forget about not wanting your daughter to pursue a career in sports, boxing should be an integral part of women's' lives just for the value of self-defence it brings with it. There are horrific cases of violence against women reported in the news every day. The world has gotten used to women taking all the abuse thrown at them. It's time we fight back. It's time we take back what is ours. It's time to lead lives that demanded the respect we deserve, lives that we are proud of, lives that we can hold up as examples to the generations after us. That is what I always try to live up to.
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