A change in her usual weight category for Olympian and six-time World Champion Mary Kom meant Nitu Ghanghas would be going face-to-face against her boxing idol at the recent Commonwealth Games selections trial in the opening round bout.
Now, when the draw was announced, Nitu wasn’t intimidated even if she was going against India’s most decorated female boxer, and was, in fact, confident of her preparation because of the hours she had put in training for this opportunity.
However, what followed next was a reality that no amount of training could prepare Nitu or.
A minute into the opening round, Mary Kom sustained a knee injury that left her in intense pain. Although the veteran boxer returned to the ring and the bout was resumed, her pain eventually forced her to leave the ring towards the end of the opening round with the referee stopping the bout. Nitu, who would go on to win the trials and get selected in the CWG 2022 squad, was declared the winner. She saw Mary Kom’s challenge for a spot at the Birmingham Games come to an end right before her eyes.
It would have been hard to process for someone who is just familiar with Mary Kom’s dominance but it is probably harder for someone like Nitu, who has grown up listening to the feats of the Manipur star.
“She shouldn’t have gotten hurt. I kept thinking that the injury that happened to her shouldn’t have happened,” said Nitu in a conversation with Scroll.in.
“I also wanted to play a whole match with her and show her everything I worked so hard for in so many years. I had the opportunity to play a whole bout with her and that did not happen.”
After thriving at the youth category with achievements like a gold in the Women’s Youth World Boxing Championships in 2017 and the Youth World Championship in Hungary in 2018, Nitu is now regarded as one of the quickest boxers in her category at the senior level. The pugilist who belongs to Dhanana village situated close to Vijender Singh’s hometown Bhiwani, also clinched the gold at the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament in Bulgaria this year.
However, for the 21-year-old, the greatest moment in her brief but medal-laced career is the moment she aced the selection trials for Birmingham by securing an impressive come-from-behind 5-2 win against the 2019 World Championships silver medallist Manju Rani.
“I now have the opportunity to perform at such a big level in such a big tournament.”
“Everybody says that they want to win gold, but for me the only achievement I am looking forward to during Commonwealth Games is executing the training I’ve put in for it,” added Nitu, who began boxing as a 12-year-old back in 2012.
Bhiwani – a hot-bed for Indian boxing – is not far away from Nitu’s village but the 40-km to and fro journey daily was exhausting and deemed unsafe for travel in the late evenings.
As a result, it made her father Jai Bhagwan Ghanghas take a 3-year-long leave without pay from his job at the Chandigarh Vidhan Sabha, relocate to Dhanana and accompany his daughter to training and keep track of her requirements, especially her nutritional intake.
The move seemed necessary because keeping up with her boxing career along with her sister’s academics for MBBS and her brother’s career in shooting wasn’t a one-person job, handled by her mother earlier.
And for Nitu, that move coincided with it being one of her lowest phases in life.
“I wasn’t getting the results till 2015 and then I sustained a fracture in my foot, which kept me out of the game for a fair bit. Then, there was some financial struggle because Papa took the leave from work to be with me,” she recalled.
“It all got worse because of my lack of results. It was like everything was going wrong at that moment. He also eventually had to leave his job because one can’t opt to be on leave without pay for so long anyway.”
Her father’s suggestion to get out of her hometown and explore and navigate her career with more exposure was a rarity in the conventional society they belonged to. So, the dream of achieving podium finish at the Olympics some day is a dream to fulfil not just for herself but for her father too.
“Even during that phase, I believed that I had only one option – to train harder. There were no shortcuts to bring a medal and overcome some of these problems.”
Life has changed a lot for her since then. Nitu, who reached the quarterfinals at the recent World Championships and came one win away from a medal, may have started off boxing because the sport became even more popular in her region after local hero Vijender had won the bronze at the Beijing Olympics. But her driving factor remains her father’s sacrifice and the confidence in her training.
“When I began, I knew literally nothing about the sport or how one wins these medals. But as I continued to play and watched others around me win over the years, the motivation came too,” she said.
“Haan, ab lagta hai itne saal baad badal sakta hai (After so many years now though, I had hope like things will change),” she added.
From being in awe of the poster-covered walls of medallists in her academy when she started out, this year has renewed her hope to perhaps herself becoming one of the faces on those walls.
“I want to see myself on the Olympics podium someday. It is my father’s dream so my preparation is always going to be for that.”