Tale of courage and grit: Parveen secures Olympic dream

Life has been as difficult as it can get for young boxer from Haryana with her father currently undergoing cancer treatment.
Parveen with the support staff after her victory on Sunday (Photo | BFI)
Parveen with the support staff after her victory on Sunday (Photo | BFI)

CHENNAI: Parveen Hooda's tale is a compelling one that underlines courage and persistence. Not so long ago, the Haryana boxer was staring at an uncertain future. After trying her hand in multiple weight categories in recent years, she was yet to establish herself as No 1 in any of those categories in the Indian national senior team. To make matters worse, her father has been undergoing treatment for cancer for some time now. As fate conspired against her, she soldiered on.

After acing the national selection trials and impressing the coaches during the national camp, the 23-year-old earned a spot in the national team for the ongoing Asian Games. Having endured unfathomable difficulties, this was just the balm she needed. After trying her hand in 60, 63, 66kg in the past, she has not only made 57kg her own but also secured an Olympic quota. Playing her quarterfinal clash on Sunday, this was more than just another bout for her. Implementing her good footwork and powerful jabs, Parveen meticulously cut apart Sitora Turdibekova, her rival from Uzbekistan on the day, to seal the contest.

This is a big relief for Parveen and her family. One person who has had faith in her from the start of her journey is her coach Sudhir Hooda. It was after Sudhir's advice that Parveen chose the 57kg category.
"Around the time of the World Championships earlier this year, we decided that she should take part in 57kg. We had earlier tried other categories but most of them were already occupied by others and she was denied the same by the national coaches," Sudhir, who is naturally stoked after Sunday's outcome, told this daily soon after the quarterfinal bout.

Despite winning a bronze medal in the 2022 World Championships and a gold medal in the 2022 Asian Championships, Parveen was forced to watch from the sidelines during the aforementioned Delhi World Championships after being unable to hold on to her No 1 spot. She was downcast but Sudhir was confident that she'll bounce back. The coach was pro-active even then. "I attended the World Championships. I was taking a close look at boxers from every category," he revealed.

That willingness to go the extra mile would have definitely boosted her overall game. "I also like to watch videos of her potential opponents. I watched  Sitora's (her opponent on Sunday) old videos almost 25 times," Sudhir, who runs an academy in Rohtak, recalled.

Hailing from Rurkee (Haryana), Parveen comes from a humble background. Her mother is managing the expenses, selling milk at her village. Sudhir revealed that her family has been facing real hardships ever since her father's health started deteriorating. Parveen herself is employed with the ITBP (Panchkula) and does her bit, according to the coach. She is also part of the TOPS Scheme and is supported by the Olympic Gold Quest, who primarily helped her in cutting down weight in order to be part of Asiad equation, according to Sudhir. "Her father has a heart condition and the doctors had advised him against working. He was diagnosed with cancer too and has been battling it for some time now. He has become very weak. They are somehow managing the treatment for now," Sudhir revealed.

Parveen first started training under Sudhir in 2012. Within six months, she had won over her coach with her natural agility and ability to learn things fast.

"Within six months, she became a state sub-junior champ and very soon she was competing at the national level. She is naturally gifted and her footwork, which is visible in her bouts, was there to see even then," the coach, who initially started a boxing academy with the aim to eradicate ill-habits in his village, noted. After that promising start, the journey ahead was far from smooth sailing. The national federation was under suspension and competitions were rare. "I used to make her take part in school championships. It was tough during those days."

In 2018, they duo tasted their first major setback. After missing a weight cut in the Haryana State Championships, she had missed out on a chance to be part of elite youth events — Youth Asian Championships and Youth Olympics.

But Sudhir and Parveen were firm about their ultimate goal — Olympics. "We always dreamt about the Olympics."

Come 2024, Parveen and her coach will live their dream.

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