GADAG: The action during a wrestling bout is enthralling. Spectators close follow every move of the enormous muscles of the wrestlers as they arm-control each other, and try to prevent getting pinned by the other. In a fraction, one of them has their face against the mat. Wrestling is one of the toughest sports which requires agility, strength, and strategy. But while we see Indian wrestlers winning medals on the international stage, their initial days are spent in rudimentary infrastructure, burnishing their skills in the mud, and the occasional substandard mats.
However, children in Gadag town are enthusiastic about wrestling. Whether it’s the Dangal syndrome is yet to be ascertained, but parents in rural areas, who were earlier against sending their girls for training, have now shed their inhibitions, and hope to see their kids as the next champions.
In 2017, there were only eight girls in the wrestling arena in Gadag town, which has now jumped exponentially to 50, who practice with 30 boys every day for national and international competitions.
How did this paradigm shift happen? Prema Huchchannavar and Shahida, among others, bagged innumerable medals on national and international platforms. Prema won the Asian Championship and World Wrestling Championship, which inspired not only other boys and girls but also shattered the mental blocks in the minds of the parents, who began visualising their kids in Prema’s position.
When such an opportunity presented itself, coach Sharanappa Beleri was ready to tackle it with both hands. Before the medal rush began, Beleri would spot talents and visit their homes to convince parents to send their kids for training. Many villagers retorted to his arguments, saying that girls should stay indoors as such training is risky for them. But Beleri was unwavering, and finally, convinced eight girls a few years ago to join his camp. Despite financial constraints, Beleri continued to train them. When Huchchannavar came out on top in an international event, residents stopped looking at his training disparagingly.
Now, many are coming forward, not only from Gadag but also from surrounding districts for training, Beleri says, adding, now, it’s Dangal 2.0 in Gadag. Twice a day, practice sessions are conducted from 6.30 am to 9 am and 4.30 am to 7.30 am, which is extended when competitions approach. As the number of wrestlers increased, Beleri created groups, and appointed someone, who has won national and international championships, as their leader to assist the newcomers.
Some of the newcomers said, “We have seen the achievements of girls and boys, especially from rural areas, which inspired us to become wrestlers. Our parents have happily sent us for training, and we are also working hard. Some of them joined the training camp six months back, and have won some local and district-level competitions. We dream of winning many medals for the country. Moreover, wrestling makes us fit, and helps in self-defence.”
A few parents who were watching their kids wrestle, said, “We are now happy to see that our children are getting good training, and winning medals. Some parents come every day with their kids to the Gadag outdoor stadium on two-wheelers for training. We also thank Sharanappa Beleri for his selfless service as his fee is meagre, but he toils day and night to train our kids.”
“Earlier, it was difficult to convince parents, but when they saw what some of the girls have achieved, they sent their kids too. I am happy to see that many children come every day, and are doing well. There is a dietary regime in place, as the wrestlers have to be at the peak of their physical fitness. I wish that all students bag medals and Gadag becomes the cynosure of Dangal. My aim is that these children from the Gadag district win Asian and World Championships, and the ultimate goal is a medal in the Olympics,” said Beleri.