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  Sports   In Other sports  27 Jan 2018  An eye-catching switch from mat to akhara

An eye-catching switch from mat to akhara

THE ASIAN AGE. | DEEPIKA DAS
Published : Jan 27, 2018, 5:52 am IST
Updated : Jan 27, 2018, 5:52 am IST

Bishnoi told Pooja that her body structure and interest were better suited to wrestling than judo.

Pooja Dhanda (right) switched from judo to wrestling on the advice of former wrestler Kripa Shankar Bishnoi.
 Pooja Dhanda (right) switched from judo to wrestling on the advice of former wrestler Kripa Shankar Bishnoi.

She has created waves by defeating world championship medallists at the Pro Wrestling League, but wrestling was not the first love of Haryana girl Pooja Dhanda. The 24-year old started off as a judoka and took up wrestling in 2009. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.

Recently, Pooja defeated reigning world and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis at the PWL, and is now looking forward to more such victories in the tournament and her career. She changed sports on the advice of wrestling coach and former Asian champion Kripa Shankar Bishnoi.

Bishnoi told Pooja that her body structure and interest were better suited to wrestling than judo. The decision to switch paid off when Pooja went on to take silver at the 2010 Youth Olympics in the girls’ 60kg freestyle event before displaying her dominance at the senior nationals.

“I debuted in the national championship in 2013 and defeated Babita Phogat in the final. Thereafter, I participated four times and emerged champion every time,” Dhanda, who hails from Gudana village in Hisar district, told this paper.

After her dominating run at the national championships, she was even offered Babita Phogat’s role in the Amir Khan-starrer Bollywood movie Dangal.

She sustained a knee injury during the initial phases of the movie, which brought some of the lowest moments of her life and forced her into a rehabilitation phase for almost two years.

“I was selected but due to an injury I had to be out for six months. Although, I tried to get back to training after that, I wasn’t feeling fit enough and had to go back to rehab. I had given nine years of my life to wrestling and did not want to leave it without fulfilling my dreams,” she said.

After two years lost to injury, she registered for the second season of the PWL last year, hoping to get scouted by a team despite her injury concerns.

Her achievements persuaded the Jaipur Ninjas to employ her for the second season. Pooja grabbed this opportunity with both hands and made a successful comeback.

Even though her team didn’t qualify for the semi-finals, her performances were applauded and she joined reigning champions Punjab Royals for the third season.

“Beating Maroulis was a major confidence booster for me,” Pooja said.

She also feels that the experience in PWL 3 will help her performance in an extremely demanding 2018 which has events like the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

“Actually, when you get the opportunity to share the ring with these Olympic standard players in your own country, it automatically motivates you and prepare you to perform well in international events,” said Dhanda, whose eyes are set on the podium at the Gold Coast CWG.

Dhanda defeated Geeta Phogat in the trials to book her spot for this year’s Commonwealth Games.

Tags: pro wrestling league, pooja dhanda