Seven years ago, Manju Rani, a 12-year-old girl in Haryana’s Rithal village, began her boxing career with a pair of borrowed gloves and old shoes. There was no mat, air-conditioned hall, ring, physiotherapist or dietician, but she was unbothered, and would happily practice on a punching bag hanging from the tree with her coach.
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On 13 October 2019, the young girl, now 19, made India proud at a global platform by bagging a silver medal (48 kgs) at the Women’s World Boxing Championships that were held in Ulan-Ude, Russia.
Earlier this year, she had won her first state championship by defeating a girl from Haryana followed by winning bronze at Thailand Open and India Open.
With the win, she has also forever inked her name in the heart of thousands of Indians who cheered for her back home.
Gracefully defeating several opponents and putting a tough fight against Russian boxer Ekaterina Paltceva in the finals in the presence of six-time World Champion, Mary Kom was nothing short of a dream for Manju.
After making a splendid international debut in Russia, Manju has already set her eyes on Olympic 2024 where she hopes to clinch the gold medal.
Overcoming Challenges With A Punch
Manju was only ten when she lost her father, a BSF havaldar, to liver cancer. Her mother, Ishwanti Devi, became the sole breadwinner of the family and opened a cosmetics shop to make ends meet.
Manju was a kabaddi player at that time but soon found comfort in boxing. She channelised all her emotions from losing her father by punching the bags.
“The reason to pick up a boxing glove could very well have been my father’s death, but the reason I continued to box was because I fell in love with the sport,” she told the Asian Age.
Even though there were financial constraints at home, Ishwanti never discouraged her daughter from following her passion. In fact, all the warnings and concerns from the villagers fell on deaf ears.
Interestingly, it was Ishwanti Devi who approached Sahab Singh, her late husband’s friend, with a request to train Manju.
Though a kabaddi and hockey player, he happily took Manju under his wings. He would learn first study boxing techniques and then train her on the ground he had built in the middle of his fish farm.
Manju started with local boxing tournaments and gradually worked her way up to district meets. However, she faced a tough time in getting selected for the state and was unable to make it despite trying for six years.
For almost six years she tried entering the state team, and after innumerable rejections, she even considered quitting boxing.
But her coach ‘uncle’ did not give up and encouraged her to keep persevering. The duo decided to compete from Punjab. She took admission in a Chandigarh college and started playing from there. Seeing her impressive performance during practices and tournaments, the college waived her fees and provided her free accommodation.
Manju dedicated her silver in Russia to her mother, her biggest strength and loudest cheerleader, who juggles between running her store, raising children and being there for her.
“My mother always stood behind me. From my diet to the training schedule, my mother managed everything. She never let me feel upset about not having a father or never let me worry about financial constraints,” she told the Hindustan Times.
Had it not been for Ishwanti’s encouragement, Manju journey might have been even more challenging than what it was.
We, at The Better India, salute the mother-daughter duo for setting an inspiring example for millions!
Featured Image Source: Boxing Federation/Twitter
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)