This 20-year-old female boxer from Haryana punched her way to her dreams
Boxer Manju Rani shares how she broke the glass ceiling in a Haryana village, and overcame economic hardships to become successful.
This is a story of grit, determination, and how belief can take you to great heights.
This girl's path to success was paved with hardships and challenges. Despite her family’s poor economic background, her faith in herself and motivation from her mother kept her dream of becoming a boxing champion alive.
Manju Rani hails from Rithal Phogat, a village in Haryana. At the age of 20, she has won a silver medal at the 2019 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championship, and another silver medal at the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament 2019, that was held in Bulgaria.
In a conversation with SocialStory, Manju shares her journey to becoming a boxing champion, despite the many odds.
The early challenges
In the village that Manju comes from, women joining sports was a taboo. The male-dominated society had confined women’s role to getting married and looking after the family. Her father, a BSF officer, also supported this idea. However, Manju’s mother always encouraged her to follow her heart.
In 2010, Manju lost her father to cancer, and things went downhill from there. Her family of six siblings and her mother struggled to make a living with a pension of Rs 9,000. Manju did not wish to burden her mother further with her aspirations of becoming a boxer.
Manju’s father’s friend, Saheb Singh Narwal, who used to train village kids in sports decided to help her out. By the end of 2013, she ventured into sports. Initially, she played kabaddi for a while. But very soon, she realised that she wanted to play an individual sport, and that’s when Mary Kom and Vijender Singh became an inspiration for her with their success stories in boxing.
“Pursuing a career in boxing comes with a lot of expenses, which a family like mine could not afford,” she says. “So, with Narwal’s help, I was able to get access to a lot of facilities, including my diet and training,” she adds.
Initially, Manju found it difficult to sustain herself in training and became demotivated. Just when she decided to quit, mental strength and support from her mother helped her in getting back on her feet.
Practice and training
Fitness is key in any sport. In boxing, the prerequisites include speed, agility, stance, footwork, and most importantly, the strength to land a blow. Manju now follows a strict training pattern every week.
“I train twice a day with a specific schedule every day of the week,” Manju says. “Two days of the week are dedicated to speed training, two days are for strength training, and I do cardio and jogging on the other days.”
Manju also shares her experience at a training camp in Italy. This 15-day camp gave her an opening to meet and practise with boxers from other countries.
“This opportunity helped me refine my skills as a boxer to a great extent. Being able to train with international boxers prior to a tournament boosted my confidence. I believe it was a great chance for any boxer who is starting off.”
Saheb Singh Narwal helped Manju get admission to Lovely Professional University, Punjab. She was trained by coach Amanpreet Kaur, who trained college students. From then on, Manju represented Punjab instead of Haryana. Since then, she has been able to focus on her boxing career without any hurdles. At the end of 2018, she won the National Championship in Bellary.
This victory gave her entry to the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament 2019, an international-level competition.
“I was very excited about the tournament. The competition went smoothly and I was confident. Even though I came second, the experience lifted my spirits. My coach, my mother, and my family were proud of me. This motivated me to work harder.”
Post the event, Manju was sponsored by a group called Welspun. As part of its women empowerment initiatives, the company is engaged in promoting Indian women in sports via the Welspun Super Sports Women Programme, which aims to support potential athletes from difficult backgrounds and enables them to seek path-breaking career opportunities in sports.
“I am grateful to Welspun for giving me a chance. They have taken care of all my boxing requirements, starting from my diet to boxing equipment. I believe it is a great programme to be associated with, as it provides great opportunities for female athletes like me. This way I can focus more on my training.”
The coronavirus impact
Amid the nationwide lockdown imposed due to coronavirus outbreak, Manju is finding it hard to keep up with her training. She does not have access to her equipment, and neither does she have a sparring partner. It has also affected her diet regime.
“In the training camp, I used to train for at least four hours a day,” Manju says. “Right now, my practice has been affected because of the lockdown. But I still manage to practise with whatever little facilities are available.”
Manju has set short-term and long-term goals for herself. Her current focus is on the Commonwealth Games 2022. Post that, she wishes to represent India in the Summer Olympics 2024, to be held in France.
When asked about her long-term plans, she says, “I believe we still lack proper infrastructure for boxing, in places like my village. Once I reach a stage where I can make a change, I want to go back and give the other young boxing aspirants a fair chance to compete by providing them with proper training and equipment.”
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)