I have eaten sadness | By Saweety Boora
Newly crowned Boxing World Champion Saweety Boora opens up about fighting depression with help of her husband Deepak Hooda and giving up movie offers for the love of the sport.
There was a time in 2020 when I wanted to quit boxing. I would start practice at 4 am and used to practice at least 12 hours daily in the camp. I had forgotten what my home looked like. The only thing on my mind was to make it to the Tokyo Olympics – I had dedicated my entire life to it.
But leave the Olympics aside… I was told I was not good enough to compete in the qualifiers for the quadrennial event. I was shattered. It was heartbreaking to hear that I would not even get a shot at qualifying for the competition, I had worked so hard for.
Naturally, there was a lot of negativity and I spiralled into depression.
I returned home and confined myself to my room. I used to shout at anyone who would enter the room and tell them to stay away. I just wanted to be alone. I was always angry; even about things that did not even matter. My parents were worried I would harm myself because I was so attached to my game. My entire self-worth was linked to my boxing prowess.
If someone is attached to something for so long and has been doing the same thing over and over again with a single-minded focus, but still falls short of their goal – how do they deal with it?
Frankly, even I did not know then.
However, it was not only falling short of the Olympics which led me to this situation. It was a series of events.
I won a silver medal at the 2014 World Championships in Canada. It was followed by a medal of the same colour at the 2015 Asian Championships in China.
But, following this my performance dipped a little. It was not that I was not winning medals. In fact, I won quite a few at tournaments like President’s Cup and others but there was a dearth of a major medal like the Worlds or Asian.
This meant that I was not getting any media attention or any monetary rewards as one does after winning a big medal. Everything good had dried up. Everyone including my competitors wrote me off.
It was not just that, even my own relatives felt my best is over.
“Saweety is done for. Get her married. She is past her prime in the sport,” were some common taunts I used to hear on daily basis back then.
There is a lot that happens in an athlete’s personal life, surroundings, and society. Not every time can one come out and speak up. I buried all of that in my thoughts. I am proud that I did not quit then.
However, it all came together and hit me after I missed out on the Tokyo Olympics.
That was the worst phase in my life. I just wanted to quit and leave it all.
But thankfully, the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 proved to be a blessing in disguise for me. It was due to the lockdown that Deepak, my husband, was stuck with me at my place. He helped me get back on my feet.
Before we get into how he has been my pillar of strength, you need to know a few things about Deepak.
Both Deepak and I are athletes. Since we are always away at camps, we hardly get to spend quality time with each other. But, the emotional support we have provided each other over the years is unmatched.
We met for the first time in 2015. He was yet to taste success in his kabaddi career then, but he was mature beyond his age.
Deepak has seen a lot of struggles and a lot of responsibilities since a young age. He did not have his parents with him. He had to take care of his sister and her children. When I first met him he was a broken man, who did not know anything apart from kabaddi. He used to put a brave face to the world but was completely opposite to me. He was kid-like in his nature with me and opened up easily. He just wanted someone to lean on and I am glad I could be that one.
He then went on to make his international debut in 2016 and rose to become the captain of the Indian team. He also rose in prominence as a star player in the Pro Kabaddi League but continued to remain as grounded as he ever was.
Right then, back to my story.
Deepak somehow managed to convince me to get out of my room. He told me if I do not want to box anymore, it is fine. Just get out of your room and come to train with me – we will only work on fitness.
Once he dragged me out with him, I was hooked. I left behind my mobile, TV everything because for me all of it brought back the memories of being overlooked for the Olympics.
From just sitting in my room idle, I started to work on my fitness for close to 12 hours a day. Just simply running, gym, strength training, and all of that. More importantly, no boxing.
When the lockdown eased five or six months later, we moved to Rohtak where my cousin who was a kabaddi player used to stay and train. He and Deepak suggested that I try my hand at kabaddi since I anyway wanted to stay away from boxing.
Earlier, I just used to watch them play but slowly got intrigued and started playing. I improved so much in such a short span of time that within three months I was selected in the Haryana state team for the National Championships.
All the coaches and selectors were surprised as to how anyone could improve this quickly. I mean, I was training with some of the fittest kabaddi players in the world – a lot of them you know because of Pro Kabaddi.
Even though I was doing well in kabaddi, something was amiss. I was not enjoying it as much as I should. I was not happy even though everything was going well.
“I knew the maximum I could win in kabaddi was Asian Games. There is no kabaddi in the Olympics. What is the point of playing then? I used to constantly ask myself what would I do with an Asian Games gold? It is a team game after all – it will not be something which I achieve alone. And what if I lose the gold due to someone from my team.” These were my constant thoughts.
It was at this point I was notified of the trials for 2021 Asian Boxing Championships which were to start in just 5 days. Knowing this made me happy. I knew I wanted to go, but I had not touched my boxing gloves for almost 10 months.
On one side I was doing so well in kabaddi but something from inside was telling me that I did not belong here, on the other there was boxing – something I had not played in long and had decided I will not come back to ever.
It was a huge dilemma for me, but Deepak stepped in once again.
He told me you have not played boxing for just 10 months, but you have trained a lot. There is no way you can forget 10 years of boxing in just 10 months. Even my kabaddi coach said that I am known for boxing, I should go. My mother agreed. They motivated me to go to trials.
The plan always was to come back to kabaddi if the trials did not work out. I just could not leave boxing without one last shot, without truly realising I am not good enough.
In the next five days, I did just 4 boxing sessions and headed into the trials. Those four sessions made me realise how much I loved boxing. Even just a normal training session made me so happy. I understood that even if I go on to achieve something extraordinary in any other sport, I would never be as happy as I am inside a boxing ring.
I had no expectations going into the trials. But, I was determined to give it my all.
Saying that I dominated the trials would be an understatement. I completely decimated all my opponents. All the anger I had pent up inside me came out inside the ring.
My footwork had improved a lot due to playing kabaddi. I became quicker and was just running into corners after throwing in a couple of punches. My opponents failed to keep up.
Everyone there was surprised. Coaches asked me “what have I eaten and come?”
I replied “gham kha ke aayi hoon (I have eaten sadness over the past few months)”.
This was the start of my redemption. I went on to win bronze at the 2021 Asian Championship and followed it up with a gold a year later.
Then came the World Championships medal this year in front of the home crowd with my family and Deepak watching from the stands.
He was happier than me cheering from the stands. Before the start of the final round in the title clash, he signalled that I have to fight only 3 more minutes from the stand and that I need to give it my all.
Having a partner with whom you can open up about everything is so important in everyone’s life and I am happy Deepak and I found each other.
It has been a very challenging for me. It took me 9 years to convert the World Championships silver from 2014 to gold. All those years of hard work have finally paid off.
But, I am not done. The Olympic dream still shines bright within me. That is what has kept me going so far and I will not stop now.
I will have to drop down to 75kg – my original weight division, if I am to achieve my Olympic dream. My performance is good, I am at my peak. I believe I can perform even better in 75kg compared to 81kg.
It is good that Lovlina is playing in 75kg. We both know each other, but one never knows what could happen in the ring. I have always believed in tough competition. She is an excellent boxer but I believe if I can give my best, I believe I can beat her. But more importantly, we can push each other to be better.
I gave up a Tamil movie offer in 2012 and a Bollywood offer in 2014 because I wanted to box. I have dedicated my entire life to this sport and I will not go down without a fight.