When she started training to be a wrestler at the age of 12, Rohtak girl Sakshi Malik had to face stiff opposition from the people in her locality. She was “taunted” for taking up a sport that “is not meant for girls”.
But the 24-year-old didn’t lose her focus, and continued working towards her dream of winning an Olympic medal. Finally, at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Sakshi won the bronze medal in the 58kg category.
Here, she talks about how life has changed since her win, the challenges she faced to achieve what she has, and more.
Reports claimed that when you started training, the locals in your neighbourhood were not too happy.
Yes. People used to say the akhada (wrestling ground) is no place for a girl. They would say wrestling is for boys, and that I would never be able to do it right. I faced a lot of problems while pursuing my training. I had to hear taunts from everyone. But now, since the time the medals have started coming in, people’s mindsets have changed.
When you were struggling, what drove you to continue training?
I love wrestling, and that has been my biggest motivator. I used to dream of participating in the Olympics. I kept working hard and didn’t pay heed to anything else [because I wanted]to achieve my dreams.
What have been your biggest challenges?
Changing people’s mindsets about what a girl should do and not do, and reaching where I am today, have been my biggest challenges. Now, I want to encourage more women to do what they want to do. I want to tell them that if they have a dream, they should leave their inhibitions and have faith in themselves. Once they start believing in themselves, then they can achieve anything in this world.
Biopics on sports personalities have become quite common now. Would you like anyone to make one on you?
I’d like a biopic on my life. But if someone doesn’t make one, it’s okay. I don’t watch too many films, so I don’t know the works of too many directors. I’m not in a position to wish for [a particular director]who should make it.
Do you think there should be more emphasis on sports other than cricket in India?
It is important that other sports are equally encouraged in India. Cricket, badminton and tennis are very popular here, but not wrestling. However, wrestling is the only sport that is continuously getting Olympic medals for the country. So, it needs to be promoted, and more facilities should be provided to wrestlers.
How would you like to promote wrestling in India?
Till I can continue my wrestling stint, I will promote the sport by doing that (being a wrestler). But once my wrestling life ends, I would like to open an academy to promote the sport, especially for women.
Who do you give credit to for your success?
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me reach this position. My parents, the Wrestling Federation of India, and the railways (Sakshi works with the Indian Railways) — they have helped me and supported me to fulfil my dreams.
You are the only Indian woman wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics. Has this feeling sunk in?
Yes, now it has. It took some time. I go for so many functions and programmes now, and I am slowly getting used to it. In fact, I recently even promoted Whisper India’s #LikeAGirl campaign. Now, I can finally feel that this is really happening to me.
How have things changed for you since you’ve won the medal?
Everything has changed for me since I’ve returned. No one knew me when I left. Now the entire nation knows who I am. Everyone loves me, and they make me feel special.
There were reports that you will get married to fellow wrestler Satyawart Kadian this year. So, when is the big day?
Nothing has been decided yet.