Youth Asian Championships gold medalist in 2008 and a bronze-medalist a year before that in Judo, Haryana’s Pooja Dhanda had to take a short detour before she could reach the upper echelons of Indian wrestling.
However, as a lot of reports suggested that her first love was Judo, Pooja clarified, “I have read in a lot of places that I started off as a Judoka but I was always inclined towards wrestling from an early age.”
“I wanted to compete at the Cadet level from an early age but you’ve got to be 16-years-old to compete. I had a few years on my hand and my friends used to shift to Judo as it was an easy sport compared to wrestling and was an easy way to make yourself financially sound for the costs we bore,” she further added.
The journey of the girl from Hisar, Haryana hasn’t been easy, coming from humble backgrounds but a supportive father helped her cruise through the tough times.
However, her hard work to be the best paid dividends after she turned 16 and stomped past her opponents in almost every tournament she participated in. Pooja even made headlines during her first senior national event when she romped past the iconic figure of Indian wrestling, Babita Phogat.
“I debuted in the national championship in 2013 and defeated Babita Phogat in the finals to win the gold,” the 24-year-old from Hisar currently playing for the Punjab Royals in PWL 3 said.
She even went on to win the next four nationals she participated in, “I participated four times and each time I emerged as the champion,” the confident Pooja added.
After her dominating run in the national championships, she was even offered Babita’s role in the movie ‘Dangal’. However, as fate would have it, she started shooting for the movie only to return to training in a couple of weeks and injure herself. “I was selected but due to an injury I had to be out for six months because of a surgery in my knee. Although, I tried to get back to training after that period but wasn’t feeling fit enough and had to go back to rehab,” Pooja explained.
After being suggested to go to Mumbai to a specialist, she was initially hesitant but eventually took the flight to Mumbai.
“During that phase, I started living with the Dangal girls as I had no idea about Mumbai, where my physiotherapy was scheduled, and stayed there for about a month. Gradually, I got a hang of the city and moved out. My physiotherapist suggested me to go through a second surgery as he didn’t understand the complexity of the injury and later found out that there was a clot in my knee,” she further explained.