Vinesh Phogat, 26, is Indian wrestling’s rebel. Forced to bow out of the 2016 Rio Olympics after a knee injury, she returned to the ring with a vengeance in 2018, and became the first Indian woman wrestler to bag medals at both the Commonwealth Games (a gold) and Asian Games (silver). She subsequently became the first Indian to be nominated for a Laureus World Sports Award, often called the Oscars of sport. Her two medal-winning cousins, Geeta and Babita, along with their father and coach, Mahavir Singh, were the focus of the 2016 Aamir Khan blockbuster, Dangal. Now, Vinesh is eyeing gold at the Olympics. A look at what keeps her going.
Coming from a family of wrestling icons is a double-edged sword. There’s always great support, but with cousins who’ve set the bar so high, you’re also under immense pressure to win.
That said, failure has taught me a lot. Since childhood, I’ve faced challenges with a stubborn will and told myself, ‘whether or not someone else can do it, I can!’
After the injury at Rio, my plastered leg got weak and thin. Growing up, I was taught that training hard was the solution to everything when it came to wrestling, so being restricted to exercises that would have earlier amounted to warm-ups was frustrating and scary.
But with motivation from physiotherapist and trainers, I stuck with the plan. At six months, I started mat training, and in a year, as they had promised, I felt like the injury had never happened.
This experience taught me the importance of rest when it comes to fitness, and the negative impact of excess. Even after I returned to full-scale training, we consciously allocate time for rest.
I’ve learnt a lot about diet too. Earlier I didn’t really know what foods contained protein or didn’t. Sometimes I’d skip breakfast, have one roti for lunch or just have eggs before sleeping. Now I eat a steady, healthy diet. Before training I have eggs and oats, tomato or bread. Lunch is roti-sabzi (protein-rich chana, rajma, etc), dahi, salad or fruit; dinner is roti-(hari) sabzi and eggs.
I’m not overly strict, but neither do I eat anything at any time, like I did before.
What happened in Rio gave me a lot of time to reflect and work on myself, inside and out. Now, if I lose, I see it as an opportunity to identify areas of weakness; if someone says something negative, I know how to keep it from staying in my head too long. In the end, you can have the best diet, train hard, do everything, but if you don’t have faith in yourself, you can’t win.
Sundays are my time off from it all. I just do my own thing, tidy up my room, watch movies, listen to music, read, spend time with my people or go shopping. All this lifts my mood like magic. The other thing that works the same way — ghar ka khaana. After a win, I just want some solid sleep and garam garam roti with ghar ka makkhan or chatni and I feel like I’ve been given the world.