CHENNAI: Not long ago, she'd get into trouble for fighting with boys in her school. It was noticeable that Arundhati Choudhary possessed boundless energy, but she clearly lacked a channel to utilise that energy. That's when, after a chat with her father, Arundhati picked up boxing in 2016, a sport that has given her a sense of purpose.
Over the years, she has had a steady rise and the youth world champion is one of the talents to keep a close eye on. In her most recent outing, the 19-year-old demonstrated that she means business. She beat the cream of boxers in the country to take the 70kg national crown.
That was incidentally her first appearance in the senior nationals. From the outset, she had a clear goal in mind. The boxer, who believes that her powerful punch is the main tool in her arsenal, just wanted to maintain her track record.
"I have always been No 1 at the junior level. So I wanted to maintain that. Somebody had once told me that it's easy to become a champion, but to maintain that status is very difficult. I also knew that there are big competitions coming up with the World Championships. So I was intent on giving my best," Arundhati, who's a vegetarian, said.
Hailing from Kota, Rajasthan, where the boxing culture is not as strong as Haryana or other states, her journey hasn't been straightforward. Under the guidance of a wushu/taekwondo coach who learnt the sport by watching YouTube clips, she started to express herself proficiently.
"She'd engage in fights with boys in school. I would always get complaints. So I used to wonder, 'what is the remedy for this'? But she was sharp in her studies. In Kota, engineering and medical studies are a big trend. So I felt that she could pursue studies and could clear IIT. I shared the idea with her but she said she's not interested," Suresh, her father, said.
It's no surprise, her coach Ashok Gautam has been a big pillar in her career so far. "The coach has played a big role in my life. He became a student of the sport, watching YouTube videos and learning from other sources. He taught himself and passed on what he has learnt to me," Arundhati, who's supported by Olympic Gold Quest, said.
She had dabbled in basketball, having played the same at the state level. But Suresh was not keen on the idea of her pursuing a team sport like basketball. "I didn't want her to get involved in a team sport like basketball, a sport that I barely know anyone and it involves a lot of variables (especially in terms of selection). I asked her to play basketball for her amusement. But she was downcast after hearing that. So I told her to focus on an individual sport like badminton or tennis, where everything would be dependent solely on her performance. That's when she said boxing."
One bout that lent credence to that life-changing decision was when she pummelled a more-acclaimed rival from Haryana during her first outing at the national level (junior). "When she was playing at the state level, I knew it was not a big deal. When she played nationals (2017) for the first time and went on to win, then I got that belief that she could actually go on to do well. I had travelled to Rohtak along with her then. There was this belief that Haryana boxers are invincible. She was so good that she beat one Haryana boxer via RSC. There was a big commotion then. People couldn't believe a girl from Rajasthan beat someone from Haryana," Suresh recalled.
Arundhati, who likes to ride her bullet during her free time, hasn't looked back since, going on to medal at the international level in various meets. The fact that she was voted the 'Best Asian Junior Women Boxer in 2018' meant she was on the right path. And the national title is just the beginning.
All the national winners have secured the World Championships berth but Arundhati could miss the flight. There are indications that Lovlina Borgohain, after a medal-winning performance during the Olympics, will be given a direct pass this time.
Even if Arundhati may miss out, her time will surely come soon.