In a display of sheer determination and skill, Malaysia dominated the proceedings, clinching an impressive five gold medals along with two silver and one bronze.
Back in 2015, when Manisha Bhanwala started wrestling to lose weight and lead a disciplined life, little did she know that the sport would become such an integral part of her life. So much so that, she left a secure job in the Paramilitary services to return to the mat and gave her courage to overcome the grief of her father’s death and keep pushing ahead.
April 17, 2022 is the date Manisha will never forget. She lost her father on the very day she had to depart for the Asian Championships after getting the better of Sakshi 5-1 in the trials for the 62kg weight category.
“Us din ko kabhi bhul nahi paungi (I can never forget that fateful day), I was about to leave for the airport when my father passed away. I was in a dire situation, career on one hand, and a personal tragedy where the void can never be filled, I lost my father — he had sacrificed so much for me and I couldn’t be with him when he was leaving me,” said Manisha after winning the gold for a second successive time at the 37th National Games in Goa on Wednesday.
Manisha was the runaway favourite for gold in Goa and she did not disappoint, defeating Uttar Pradesh’s Pushpa Yadav 14-1 in the 62kg final at the Campal Sports Village.
Though Manisha is now focused on fulfilling her father’s dream of winning an Olympic medal one day, she still tears up while recalling the Asian Championships and how she coped with her grief.
“It was extremely difficult for me to control my emotions. I wanted to skip the tournament but my coach advised me that I could be banned, and accordingly I left for Mongolia. I could hardly focus on my game as dad’s memories were constantly flashing across my mind. I returned with a bronze, and decided to stay at home for some time,” she added.
Born to a farmer in Haryana’s Rohtak, Manisha’s career got the much-needed boost within a year of her taking up the sport in 2016, when the then 17-year-old won the gold at the cadet world championships in Tbilisi, Georgia. Manisha went on to bag a gold at the 2016 South Asian Games and a bronze at the Commonwealth championships.
The following year, she bettered her medal to a silver at the 2017 Commonwealth championships, to make her way to the senior circuit, and eventually landed her with a secured job with the Paramilitary. She made an instant impression with a gold at the World Military Games in 2018, held in China.
However, two years after serving in the Paramilitary forces, Manisha was frustrated with lack of training opportunities due to which her performances dipped and after much deliberation, she eventually resigned and decided to concentrate on her sport.
“I discussed with my father, when my performances were not as expected. By that time Covid-19 hit, and I was in two minds, whether to focus on the training for duty and completely turn my back towards sports. At that time, my father reminded me of my priority for sports and suggested that I leave the job as it wasn’t helping my sports career,” she said
“I finally gave up the job, and shifted my focus back to wrestling, and in 2022 managed to beat Sakshi 7-4 in the selection trials for the world championships. At the senior national championships at Gonda, UP, I defeated Sakshi once again by a 9-1 margin before getting back into the national camp,” she added.
Manisha completed her hat-trick of wins against Sakshi during the trials for World Championships in April 2022, before the tragic loss of her father left her devastated.
She lost to Sakshi in the trials for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and has been moving between 62kg and 65kg categories.
But with another National Games gold, Manisha is gearing up towards the Paris Olympic qualification.