Panaji: The 37th National Games in Goa offers a great platform for rising boxers to showcase their potential and present their case for inclusion in the big league. One among those aspiring pugilists is Sikkim’s Pemlaki Bhutia, who will be eyeing her maiden medal at the showpiece meet.
Separated from her biological family at the age of five, Pemlaki was fascinated with boxing from the day she saw MC Mary Kom picking the bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
However, for the next two years, she could not pursue the sport thanks to the absence of any training facilities for the sport in her surroundings at Namchi in South Sikkim — her new address after being adopted by Tilok Kumar Pondyal, an ASP with the state police force.
“I was five or six, when I was adopted by my new parents, and they are very much supportive of my choices. We are five siblings, two brothers, and three sisters, and we share a strong bond. There hasn’t been any instance in my life till now when they have not supported me. My parents would ensure all the happiness for me like they do with the other siblings,” she said.
Pemlaki lost her biological mother as an infant and was initially raised by her father. She was later adopted by a nearby family whom she would meet every morning during her trips to fetch milk.
“I was too small and don’t remember everything vividly. But from what I can recollect, I would go for morning trips to fetch milk, and on the way would cross home, and the family loved me, they would take care of me. I used to spend most of my time at their place, and one day my new father asked me if would want to stay with them forever, and from that day I got a new family,” Pemlaki, now 22, explained while refreshing her memories.
While the rest of her siblings were good at studies, Pemlaki was more inclined towards sport, and Mary Kom’s medal — India’s first-ever Olympic medal in women’s boxing, did give her the push to dream of a career in boxing.
She was however, clueless about the coaching facilities in her locality before an opportunity came knocking when her school teacher wanted a few students to participate in the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan, a central-sponsored scheme launched by the then-central government in February 2014.
“I was 13 then, and when my teacher wanted some students, I immediately raised my hand for boxing. There were some other disciplines like archery and shooting, but none of the other students were interested in boxing. So, I was selected and I bagged a silver medal in the 32kg category, the highest for children of that age. And that was the start!”
“After winning the medal, I was selected to train at the Sports Authority of India centre, and within a couple of months, I got my second medal, this time a gold. That really pumped me up and made my family believe that I could go the distance in the sport,” she said.
A silver at the inaugural North East Olympic Games (NEOG) in Imphal (2018) opened the doors of the national youth camp in 2019 before the pandemic struck and online coaching became the new normal for athletes across the globe.
In 2022, Pemlaki bounced back with a gold medal and ‘best boxer’ award at the State boxing championship held in Soreng, West Sikkim.
Aspiring to represent India at the senior level, Pemlaka now hopes to make her mark in the 57kg category in Goa.