With their gold medals in their hands, Sneha and Ritu made their way to the spectator arena before meeting world championship bronze medalist Manisha Moun. The boxer from Haryana had come to cheer on her state’s boxing contingent, which won a combined total of ten gold medals on the final day of the Khelo India Youth Games at the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex, and the champions of Khelo India from Himachal Pradesh wanted to show Moun their medals.
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Both belong to Sangla, a town in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh about 250 km from the capital Shimla and the girls were clicking selfies with Haryana boxers before heading to the dining hall.
“While Haryana is known for producing Olympic and international medal winning boxers, people often ask us that ‘Himachal mein bhi boxing hoti hai? And when we tell them that we are from Sangla in Kinnaur district, they wonder even more. Becoming champions here where Haryana reigned in the ring is special for both of us and we know we will have the traditional tribal garlands when we reach our home in Sangla on our return,” shares Sneha who won gold in girls . weight (66 kg) final on Monday.
The daughter of a teacher, Sneha first tried her hand at boxing at the insistence of English teacher Shyam Rattan Negi, who also acts as the basic boxing coach at Sangla Government High School. With his father Manoj Kumar assigned to Assam as a teacher, Sneha would often ask his friends or family to get his new boxing gloves in Shimla or Chandigarh. With some buses taking a full day from Sangla to Chandigarh, it was difficult for youngsters to get basic boxing gear.
“In most public schools, children are taught boxing as well as other martial arts in an effort to keep them fit. Although there is less sports infrastructure, tribal children want to learn sports, which it was boxing or any other sport. It was very difficult at first. But later some hydro companies would sponsor the equipment. As a basic trainer, the main challenge was to keep the kids motivated and they came to school to train even during snowfall. This is a huge achievement for Sangla with two girls winning Khelo India medals and I hope it will inspire more girls,” said Negi.
“We want #Sangla to be known for our #boxing too. We had to train with old boxing equipment. In the winter, we used to train with a family member holding the punching mat because it was too cold outside,” says Ritu.
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Sneha won his medal in the form of silver at the national junior championships in Telangana before winning silver at light welterweight (63kg) at the Boxam tournament in Spain last year. Sneha would also become the Asian youth welterweight (66kg) champion in Dubai last year and, with the weight now an Olympic category, will aim to become the second boxer from Himachal in recent years to represent India. at the Olympics after Ashish Kumar qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Last year.
Another English teacher encourages boxers
Ritu, whose father owns an apple farm in Sangla, also started boxing at Government Middle School under fellow English teacher Opinder Negi, who also acts as a basic boxing coach. The youngster won the bronze medal at the 2018 National Junior Championships in Guwahati before a bronze medal at the National Junior Championships in Sonepat last year. The flyweight (52kg) boxer picked up a victory over Haryana’s Neeru Khatri to claim the gold medal on Monday.
“I was recruited as an athletic contingent in middle school and started boxing training at school in 2012. While boxing gloves were a bit expensive, we also started fundraisers from parents of children in the villages or using bike tubes and tires in the walls with the exception of local gym equipment made from scrap metal to train the children in. I would teach them boxing before school hours or after school hours but seeing these kids win medals is my reward. Currently I am coaching over 80 kids and 15-20 players are national level boxers and three international boxers including Sneha, Vinakshi and Deepika,” said Opinder Negi, Ritu’s coach and English and social studies teacher at Government Middle School in Sangla.
“Most people know Sangla because of the apple growing or as a tourist destination. But we want Sangla to be known for our boxing as well. Sometimes my dad would tell the Apple truck drivers to pick up my boxing gear from Chandigarh or Jalandhar as soon as they got back. And we had to train with old boxing equipment. In the winter, we would train with a family member holding the punching mat or the fight mat because it was too cold outside. I hope I can be part of the Indian camp as soon as I want to meet my idol Mary Kom one day,” says Ritu.
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Cuban coach BI Fernandez, who happens to be the only foreign coach to receive the Dronacharya award, coached Sneha at PIS, Mohali and places great importance on the youngsters of Himachal. “When Sneha came to train with me three years ago, she only relied on straight punches. Over time, we worked on his body punches as well as the combinations. At welterweight, speed with power is key and she needs to add some speed as well as power in the years to come,” says Fernandez.