Panaji: Legendary boxer MC Mary Kom has inspired a generation of sportspersons, especially women athletes across disciplines, and one among them is wrestler Neetu Sarkar, who battled age-old patriarchy and financial odds to carve her own path to glory even after giving birth to twins at the tender age of 14.
Neetu’s rise from the ashes is in itself an inspiration to many aspiring sportspersons, and her recent silver medal win in the women’s 57kg weight division at the ongoing 37th National Games in Goa, only serves a timely reminder that there are no freebies in sport or in life.
“I have been through a lot, don’t even want to touch upon that subject. Life gives a second chance to everyone, and today I can proudly say that I have earned each of my medals with sheer hard work and dedication to the sport,” said Neetu, currently employed with the SSB.
Born in a cash-strapped family in Bhiwani, Neetu went through the harshest phase of her life during her teens, when at 13, she was sold off to a 43-year-old with “mental issues” but somehow managed to escape and get back to her parents.
But little did she get a breather, as her parents soon found another groom for her. The second husband was unemployed, and survived on his mother’s pension.
“It was very difficult for us to manage financially, and all we had was my mother-in-law’s meagre pension. I decided to take up odd jobs, and ended up tiling land, before working as a beautician, a maid, a shop clerk and even a self-taught tailor,” she would recall.
In a year’s time, Neetu gave birth to twin boys, thus adding more responsibility on her young shoulders. The arrival of the twins did dent her aspirations to pursue sport until a chance meeting with a yoga teacher in the village changed life forever.
The yoga coach referred her to a wrestling coach Ziley Singh, who cited MC Mary Kom’s inspiring story to motivate Neetu’s dreams of pursuing sports. But Neetu found little support from her husband when she expressed her wish.
“Initially my husband discouraged my plans of taking up sport, and called it a crazy idea. I always understood life won’t be smooth and easy unless you take up challenges, and I did not want my boys to undergo the same hardships so early in their lives,” she said.
“And since I had only studied till the seventh standard, I knew I won’t qualify for any job based on my academic qualification. And thankfully my husband agreed to support me after some coaxing, but on one condition that I would finish my training before the other members of the family and the village woke up,” she added.
“I would start jogging around 10kms at around 3:30 in the morning and by the time I returned home, I would get myself engaged in the daily chores,” she said.
Neetu took the sport seriously only when she was 17, and became a national medalist in the senior category by the time she was 19. Two years later, the then 21-year-old represented India at the Junior World Championships in Brazil and returned with a bronze medal from the 2015 National Games held in Kerala as well. She won a silver in the 57kg category at the 36th edition of the Games, held in Gujarat last year. She has also returned with medals from international tournaments.
As far as her family is concerned, her sons are now based in Karnal and Rohtak, and one of them is pursuing javelin. Serving as a constable with the SSB, Neetu has her eyes pinned on the upcoming trials for the Paris Olympics!