When as a 12-year-old Anshu Mailk told her grandmother that she wants to be a wrestler, little inkling did her father Dharamvir had that in seven years, his daughter would realise his unfulfilled dream.
She is one of the four Indian woman wrestlers to have qualified for the Olympics, despite playing her first senior level tournament as recently as January 2020.
It was in 2012 when Anshu insisted that she, like her younger brother Shubham, be trained as a wrestler at Nidani Sports School.
In six months, Dharamvir found out that his “chhori (daughter)“ was no less than any of the “chhoras” (boy). In fact, she was actually better, the wrestler in him assessed.
Initially, Dharamvir’s focus was his son, who was four years junior to Anshu but as they trained, the father knew where he should focus more for the the time being.
“After six months of training, she started defeating girls, who were practising there for 3-4 years. Then I turned my focus more on my daughter than my son. She had the spark,” Dharamvir said.
Sitting on a wooden cot in her house in Nidani village, Anshu listened to the story of her childhood with a smile on her face and acknowledged that she still remembers the day.
“Yes I do. The mat always attracted me because my father, uncle, grandfather, brother all were into wrestling,” said the 19-year-old.
His father has competed at one international event before an injury ended his career.
Ask Anshu about her formative years at the Nidani Sports School, she tried to gather her thoughts.
“Jo Papa keh rahe hain wahi hai ji (It’s the same what my father is saying),” she said.
But when she is on mat, she expresses herself without any inhibition.
Four years after she started training, Anshu had become good enough to win state and national titles. She won a silver at the Asian Cadet championship in 2016 and then a bronze at the World Cadet championship.
Despite not having much exposure at the international level junior competitions, she has started making a mark at the senior circuit as well.
She has competed in only six senior tournaments thus far and won medals in five of them, becoming the 57kg Asian champion in the process.
“I am not shy. Main khul ke rehti hu mat ke bahar bhi (Off mat, I am carefree),” she though insisted.
The competitiveness, determination to stay ahead of the pack and always strive to be the best are some of the traits that puts her in a league of her own.
“I always wanted to win those medals, have the feel of the podium. Even at school, I wanted to come first,” she said, sharing with pride that she scored 82% in her senior secondary level exams.
Dharamvir said he wanted that someone in his family should do something big in wrestling since he could not make it big on the mat.
“After my injury, I thought my son would do it. So I took him for training when he was 8 years old. But it was Anshu, who gave me the confidence that my dream will turn into reality soon,” he said.
“Shubham (now 15-year-old) still competes in the Cadet category but Anshu is one through whom I am living my dream.”
Coached by Jagdish, she has not even completed 10 years of training since she first set her foot on mat and is already booked her ticket for Tokyo.
What’s the reason behind her super fast progress?
“She wakes up at 4:30am everyday without any of us needing to get her out of bed for practice. She never says ‘no’ to training, no matter how tired she is. We only support her, she herself is so determined. That’s the difference.”
Anshu herself credits the ‘negativity-free’ environment around her for her success.
“I am mentally very strong. I don’t get perturbed even if someone makes a negative comment about me or tells me that I won’t be able to do well against strong rivals. It does not affect me.
“Also, I have been surrounded by very positive people. No one tells me that I can’t achieve this or that. Everyone instils that confidence in me that everything is doable. That’s a big plus for me. There is no negativity around me.”
Anshu feels that international competitions have taught her that smart work needs to replace the hard work at some stage.
“We often end up doing a lot of work outside the mat. But work on technique, mat-training, recovery, diet and massage is very important. The good foreign wrestlers work a lot more on technique,” she said.
Self-belief can often be construed as arrogance but when Anshu says she is the best Indian woman wrestler when it comes to mat performance, it’s a case of immense self confidence.
“I am the best in Indian wrestling when it comes to on-mat performance. Overall, Vinesh didi (Phogat) is the best ,” said Anshu.
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