Soon after wrestler Pooja Dhanda, 25, was recommended for the Arjuna award by the awards selection committee, she has been named in India’s World Championships squad on Monday. Pooja failed to book berths in the Olympic categories, thus she will be aiming to satisfy her dreams in the World Championships squad which is scheduled to be held in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14-22. This is the first Olympic qualifying event and Pooja is one of the strong contenders. Meanwhile, another star wrestler Navjot Kaur also became a part of the squad.

Pooja secured her place in the championship as soon as she stood on the mat because there were no opponents to challenge her in the trails in Lucknow on Monday.

Before making her name count in the fraternity, Pooja’s journey to the prestigious award has been troublesome but the Haryana girl feared nothing but losing her place on the mat. With solid hard work and passion she recovered from a career threatened by knee injury, which took a long time to heal. She made a comeback to international wrestling and went on to win a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in the 57kg category. She carried the same amount of energy and level of performance into the World Championships in Budapest, where she won a bronze medal in the same weight category.

Last October Pooja entered an elite club as she became only the fourth Indian woman grappler to win a medal at the Wrestling World Championship. The other three players to win in the World Championship before Pooja are Alka Tomar (2006), Geeta Phogat (2012) and Babita Phogat (2012).

Pooja’s father works as a driver in the Haryana Animal Husbandry department in Hisar. Initially, Pooja had trained in judo. She later trained under wrestling coach Subash Chander Soni at the Mahavir Stadium in Hisar in 2004. And the rest, as they say, is history!

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“After recuperating from the injury, which took two years, winning a medal at the world championships and that too in an Olympic weight category was a big thing for me. I never imagined I could do that,” Pooja spoke to TimesofIndia.com about her journey.

“I am in Lucknow right now for a National camp. I was training and my coach shouted ‘…Pooja… tera naam nominate ho gya hai Arjuna Award ke liye’ (Pooja, your name has been recommended for the Arjuna Award). I was so happy and elated when I heard the news. It was a big thing for me. I wanted to tell my parents but waited to confirm it properly.” said the 25-year-old who is now on cloud nine for the tag of Arjuna Awardee.

“Five minutes later, I got a congratulatory message from Bajrang (Punia) about my Arjuna Award recommendation. He had sent me the list of the awardees. I immediately called my parents and asked for their blessings. It is a big achievement for me.”

“Five minutes later, I got a congratulatory message from Bajrang (Punia) about my Arjuna Award recommendation. He had sent me the list of the awardees. I immediately called my parents and asked for their blessings. It is a big achievement for me. Now, there will be more responsibilities on my shoulders and the country will expect a lot more from me when I hit the mat. I promise I won’t disappoint them. Winning an Olympic medal is my ultimate aim,” a confident Pooja expressed her happiness.

“It feels really great when my coaches call me Arjuna awardee Pooja. I never imagined I would experience something like this in my life. I am thankful to God, my parents and my coaches who have done everything to make this possible,” the freestyle wrestler said.

“I have learnt a lot from my coaches Kripa Shankar sir and Kuldeep sir. Kripa sir taught me movement, motion and the technique of wrestling. The best thing I have learnt from him is how to read the body language of an opponent,” she said talking about the learning experiences.

“I would also like to give credit to WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. He has played a big role in my comeback. He showed confidence in me and gave me the chance to compete in the Pro Wrestling League season 2,” the 25-year-old said.

In the 2018 edition of the Pro wrestling League, Pooja beat 2016 Olympic champion Helen Maroulis of USA.

Pooja was 16 when she represented India at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 in Singapore. Participating in the Girls’ Freestyle 60kg category, the Haryana wrestler won the silver medal.

“I was very young then and I gave my best and won a medal for my country. Now, it’s time to win a medal in the senior Olympic Games for my country” Pooja signed off, indicating exactly what her target is.

Pooja won a total of four gold medals in judo in junior nationals. She also has a bronze medal in Asian Cadet Judo Championship in Hyderabad in 2007. The following year, Pooja won the gold medal in Asian Cadet Judo Championship in Yemen before winning her first international medal in wrestling in 2009, a bronze medal in Asian Cadet Championships.

In wrestling, she won the silver medal in the first edition of Youth Olympics Games in 2010. In 2013, Pooja defeated Babita Phogat in the final of the senior nationals and won a gold medal. She also bagged a bronze came in Asian Wrestling Championships in 2014 in Astana.

In wrestling, she won the silver medal in the first edition of Youth Olympics Games in 2010. In 2013, Pooja defeated Babita Phogat in the final of the senior nationals and won a gold medal. She also bagged a bronze came in Asian Wrestling Championships in 2014 in Astana.

In 2017, Pooja became the national champion once again, her first since 2013 before scoring wins over Olympic and World champion Helen Maroulis twice in the Pro Wrestling league in January early this year.

Way to go, champ!

Feature Image Credit: The Indian Express

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