Sunday, Nov 14, 2021 08:00 [IST]
Last Update: Sunday, Nov 14, 2021 02:27 [IST]
A TGIF! special report
Vabiya Gurung had never dreamt of being a boxer even when she was a little girl. Born in a modest family to parents Tek Bahadur Gurung and Pabitra Gurung at Upper Lingchom, Yangthang constituency, West Sikkim, she rose out of a rather impossible dream for a girl child from a conservative society to pursue a career in boxing.
The 26-year-old has since participated and won various State and national level championships. She is also a boxing coach under Sports & Youth Affairs department and has escorted Sikkim team as its boxing coach at various national level championships.
In an exclusive interview with TGIF!, Vabiya talks about her journey from being a sports enthusiast to a national-level coach from Sikkim
Getting into boxing
Vabiya: I started my career in boxing during 2011, when I was a 16-year-old girl. I was a student at Sardung secondary school and I wasn’t the brightest of students in school.
Our music teacher Sonam Lepcha was the one who inspired me to join boxing and happened to be my first boxing coach too. He happened to know boxing and since some of us weren’t good in studies he used to encourage us to take up sports. He started teaching boxing and many started attending his classes.
Since I was a sports enthusiast and was into athletics, I too wanted to join boxing classes. However, I had a heart condition and my parents were hesitant and did not allow me to join boxing classes initially. I was rejected by Sonam sir too due to my heart condition. I insisted on joining his boxing classes but it was not possible.
At that time, I got selected for PYKKA national games 2011 in athletics and since athletics is the mother sport for physical training and as I was good in athletics, I was allowed to attend the boxing classes. I trained under Sonam Lepcha for six months. He had around 48 students in the first batch. We trained under him for a while and 10 of us were shortlisted for the 8th Junior Women’s National Boxing championship at Patiala, Punjab in 2012. The selection process was held in Pangthang in 2011.
Vabiya: I was born in Upper Lingchom in Yangthang. I usually used to train during mornings and evenings for two hours each. We used to start at 5:30 am from home and reach the training centre by 6 am. During the day, we had to go to school and also take care of domestic chores. Since we live in a village, we also had to look after livestock.
First championship experience
Vabiya: Ten of us were shortlisted from Sikkim for the 8th Junior Women’s National Boxing championship at Patiala, out of which four of us were from West Sikkim. As most of us were from a humble background, we had never crossed Rangpo and so we were scared too. Weight was the most important issue. I was selected for the 52 kgs weight category and as we were travelling for the first time, some of us lost weight and some were considered under-weight and were disqualified. I was allowed to participate in the 48 kgs category.
I played three matches and lost in the pre-quarters to an international boxer from Kerela. It was my first championship and I gave my best. That was the moment that I realized that I wanted to take boxing as a career. The coach was also proud of me and urged me to take boxing seriously and as a profession.
Since then, I have participated in five national level championships, two national level northeast games, won three gold medals at State level championships and escorted Sikkim team as coach in eight national level championships.
Training under Sandhya Gurung
Vabiya: Before I turned coach, I competed as a boxer for seven years. I am blessed to train under Sandhya Gurung who is the coach of Tokyo Olympic bronze-medalist boxer Lovlina Borgohain, arguably one of the best finds in Indian boxing history. A former boxer herself, Sandhya fought paralysis to become a national level boxer. She is an inspiration to all and I am blessed to train under her for seven years, and she is one of the most positive trainers.
Sadly, in Sikkim, we are not technically sound and so that makes a difference. During our time, we were technically hit and still nothing has changed here. She had to travel a lot but she was always there for us during our championships and was always there to support us. She has been a support system throughout. Today, she is a Dronacharya awardee and I am extremely proud of her.
Views on the state of sports in Sikkim. What can be done to improve it?
Vabiya: In terms of boxing, Sikkim lacks enough coaches. In Sports department there are only four coaches, including one male coach. Three are posted in East Sikkim, while I am the only one in west district.
I started my career in boxing in 2011 and after seven years, I became a boxing coach. At a young age, I worked hard to reach where I am today and no one, except my family have supported me. As I have come from a humble family, we were not financially sound. When we had to go outside the State for championships we used to get frustrated at times because we witnessed how important such championships were to other athletes, but in Sikkim we weren’t really prepared for it.
I was also giving free boxing coaching classes as social service during leisure time to aspiring students from across west district for a few years.
Sikkim is in dire need of more coaches. There are so many kids in the grassroots level that are interested in boxing but there are no coaches to train them. This was the exact reason why I chose to become a boxing coach at a young age. I was performing well as a boxer but I chose boxing coach for the sake of these kids. Some are medalists at national championships and they are sitting idle at home due to lack of coaches. We are still not being able to highlight interested and deserving kids at the grassroots levels.
Even in our times, there were around 48 amateur boxers who started together but I am the only one who is in this field. I still think about it sometimes.
Slowly, boxing associations are coming up in various parts of Sikkim and we are trying to get these boxers, even seniors who have quit boxing due to these reasons.
How many students are you training right now?
Vabiya: After completing my certificate in sports coaching in 2017 from Kolkata, with 2nd topper marks, I was recruited as a boxing coach by the Sports & Youth Affairs department in 2017. I am currently posted in Kyongsha Stadium Geyzing, West Sikkim. At regular basis there are 25+ students in the under-14, under-17 and under-19 age group categories who train under me. During camp season, the number of students increases.
Taking Sikkim team to national championships
Vabiya: I have been escorting Sikkim boxing team as a woman coach in various national championships. Two students have also represented Sikkim in Khelo India Youth Games 2020, while one represented Sikkim in the 3rd Youth Boxing championship in Haryana 2019.
One student bagged a silver medal at the Sub-Junior East Zone National Championship held in Assam.
So far, I have escorted more than 50 boxers, to various national championships as a boxing coach.
Vabiya as a boxing coach or as a boxer?
Vabiya: Definitely as a boxer. India’s pride Lovlina has reached heights as a boxer. When I was a player, I used to meet her often during championships. We became good friends and we are constantly in touch with each other. Witnessing her reach where she is now makes me feel proud of her.
Due to various issues here in Sikkim we couldn’t reach the peak height that we could. Most of the boxers who started together are nowhere in the field now. They are frustrated too.
I always wanted to be a player but I was compelled to become a boxing coach due to various unavoidable circumstances. I became a coach for my kids at the grassroots level. I want to support the coming generation in whatever way I can. I want to share my knowledge with them. I was compelled to change my profession from a boxer to a coach due to this too.
According to Sikkim Amateur Boxing Association (SABA), once a boxer turns coach, he/she cannot go back to being a player. The same rule applies to other States too, especially in boxing. This is good in a way because once I turn into a player then no one will be there to guide my students. Our students will be drastically affected if I turn player.
If not into boxing, what would you be?
Vabiya: A singer. I love singing and always participated in singing competitions in school. I had also participated in Voice of Sikkim, a reality show many years back.
Balancing professional with personal life
Vabiya: It’s been almost two years since I got married. My husband Deo Prasad Rai is an artist by profession. I got married at a young age but it doesn’t feel like it because my husband has always been supportive. He was my best friend before and we still are best friends. So there has never been a problem balancing professional and personal life.
He doesn’t disturb me when I am out for championships. My family have also been very supportive throughout. They don’t let me regret my decisions, at times.
I train my students from 6 in the morning, in batches.
Vabiya: From 2017-2021, some of my students have done wonders and achieved what they deserved. There is one student Ani Hang Subba who is a very hardworking student. He was born in 2005. My main target is to train him for under-17 school games to be held in December. I am grooming him further for world championships. My dream is to take him to Paris Olympics 2024. I want to give my 100 per cent in this.
Next five years
Vabiya: My target is to not just take my kids but Sikkim worldwide in the field of boxing. I will train along with my kids, as a coach. I will also take courses to become a world class coach.
AS A BOXER
6th junior women National Boxing championship Punjab -Patiala 2011
8th junior women National Boxing championship Punjab -Patiala 2012
14th senior women National Boxing Championship in Uttarkhand - Khatima 2013
1st Monnet Steel Elite Woman’s National Championship in 2014 in Raipur-Chhattisgarh
16th senior Women’s National Boxing Championship in ITI field, Bongaigaon Assam -2015
North Eastern Games
Won Silver in National Level North Eastern Games at Imphal, Manipur 2016
National North Eastern Games at Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh organized by RGKA on 2014.
Won Gold (best boxer) in 12th State open boxing (men and women) championships 2012 held at Geyzing
Won Gold in 13th State open boxing championship organized by Pakyong Amateur Boxing Association on 2014
Won Gold in senior women category in 15th open boxing championship organized by EDBA at Gangtok on 2016
Escorted Sikkim team as a coach
1. Khelo India Youth Games, Guwahati, 2020
2.1st Sub Junior Girls Boxing Championship, Maharashtra 2018
3. 1st BFI East Zone Sub Junior boys and girls, 2019
4. 65the National School Games under-17 girls and boys, Delhi 2019.
5. 1st North East Olympic Games 2018, Imphal
6. 1st BFI Elite Men and women East Zone Boxing Championship, Assam, 2018
7. 3rd Junior Girls National Boxing Championship, Rothak, Haryana 2019
8. 4th Youth Men and Womens’ National boxing Championship, 2021, Sonepath, Haryana