“I’m going to lift knowing that I can, and I will, make history!”

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“Whilst growing up, my siblings and I would have to walk kilometres to find firewood for our food to be cooked. Mummy ran a tea stall while my brothers would work in the fields and sell sweaters in the market to make ends meet. We were barely making it through each day. One day, my brother and I were collecting firewood from a nearby hill–he looked exhausted.

I told him, ‘Let me carry it.’ He couldn’t believe I said that. So I showed him I could by picking it up! His jaw dropped when he saw me, a 12-year-old girl, lift heavy firewood. As we neared home, a crowd gathered around me; they asked, ‘Did you carry this all the way?’ and I proudly replied, ‘Yes!’ I heard someone say, ‘She should take up weightlifting.’

When I was in school the next day, I read about weightlifter Kunjrani Devi; she was from Manipur too and had made it to the Olympics! I wanted to be like her, but the only weightlifting centre near my home was 22 kilometres away. My family took me to the centre for admission. My strength and muscle power was tested, after which the centre accepted me; I was ecstatic!

Mummy would wake me up on cold mornings and get me ready for practice. My siblings would travel with me to the centre. I’d travel almost 50 kilometres everyday and just make it on time for school after. I’d often fall asleep in class; I was always exhausted.

Mummy was my biggest supporter; ‘I’m with you,’ she’d say. She’d massage my body when I was in pain. I remember lifting more than my weight in a national competition–I stood third, but seeing Mummy tearing up and my family clapping for me, made me feel like I could achieve anything.

I worked harder everyday–I’d have 2 hour training sessions 3 times a day. And it paid off–I was selected to represent India in international competitions and I won gold at the Commonwealth Games! I was confident that I’d win a medal at the Rio Olympics too but on D-day, I froze, and didn’t perform well.

I was so upset that I contemplated quitting weightlifting. That’s when Mummy told me, ‘It’s easy to give up! Are you going to quit what you’ve worked so hard for?’ She helped me get back to the gym again.

I put Rio behind me and started afresh. And in 2017, I became the second Indian to win a gold medal at the World Championships! But after that, an injury set me back. I lost muscle since I couldn’t train. The Olympics were around the corner and I was running out of time– I could barely lift my own weight!

Thankfully my coach took me abroad to treat me, and I returned stronger. I ended up breaking the world record at the Asian Championships after being out of the sport for a year!

And today, I really believe anything is possible and I’m taking that mindset to the Tokyo Olympics! Some are born strong but I’ve made myself strong because of my circumstances. And I’m going to lift with the same confidence that I did as a 12-year-old, knowing that if I have the willpower I can, and I will, make history!”

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