From COVID-19 battle to a string of defeats and training postponement in the post-pandemic era, Divya Kakran finally finds her old self with a dominating performance at the WFI trials for CWG and World Championships.
25 March, 2022, defending Asian Champion Divya Kakran was staring at her own huge portrait at the Wrestling Hall of the Sports Authority of India facilities in Lucknow and asked herself if she and the girl in the photo are the same. The girl in the photo after all was a 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games bronze medallist, who was flaunting her 2021 Asian Championship gold medal.
The 23-year-old girl staring at it, on the contrary, had this feeling sinking in that she won’t be able to defend her gold medal in 2022 as she just made an unceremonious first-round exit at the Wrestling Federation of India trials for the tournament. Divya, in fact, went down 12-4 to her junior Sonika Hooda in the 68kg category.
However, close to two months later, Divya returned to the 2022 CWG and World Championships trials with a point to prove and defeated Sonika 3-2 in an opening-round re-match on her way to emerge winner in her favourite weight classification.
Down, but not out, the 23-year-old Arjuna awardee turned things around in the limited timeframe and motivation came her way from her would-be life partner, who brought back that smile of confidence on her face.
“Jab bura waqt chalta hai to, uth pe bathe admi ko bhi kutta kaat le. That’s what my condition was for the good part of 2021 and the beginning of 2022,” Divya tells Firstpost from Lucknow. “And losing Asian Championship trials was one of the lowest point in my career when I forgot how to win. Par koi mental support karne wala mil jae to confidence wapas aa jata hai.”
Divya recently (April 10) got engaged to Sachin Pratap, a bodybuilder from Meerut, whose first wish from her fiance is a CWG gold medal.
“He has been really supportive and tries to understand me. After my defeat at the March trials, he stopped me from thinking too much about it and made me promise to win him the Commonwealth gold medal. He restored the confidence I lost in myself and now I am eager to keep my promise,” she said.
While the phrase that a champion learns from his or her mistakes only to come back stronger fit perfectly for Divya, the inspiring quote garbs the fact that the wrestler is now devoid of any sponsors. The problem for Divya started off much before her sponsors pulled out, recalls her father Suraj Sain.
“Musibat saari ek ke baad ek ati hain (Problems come one after another,” said Suraj, who sells wrestler’s langot for living. “And for our girl it started with her testing COVID-19 positive. She had visible symptoms and had to skip training for over a month. This had a direct impact on her performance as she lost at the national trials and then later on the Olympic trials as well.”
Divya did find her mojo back three days later losing the Olympic trials as she won the Asian Championship trials to eventually win the tournament’s gold medal (albeit in a toothless competition with major names missing due to COVID) but lack of funding was soon to have its implication.
“Divya was and is sole bread earner of the family as post COVID-19 my Langot business has come to a halt due to lack of demand. Once the sponsorship money stopped, then we really had to struggle to make ends meet,” said Suraj.” All the money that came our way after 2018 CWG and Asiad mostly went into Divya’s grandfather’s treatment and in a house, we brought.”
However, with the CWG trials’ success, Divya and her family are hopeful that they have experienced the worst.
“I saw the worst during the slump when people said in front of me ki iska accha time chal rha tha, ab chal gya (She was going through a good phase and now it’s gone).
“For a young wrestler like me, it was a learning curve that I won’t always be having a good phase. There will be bad times as well when people will write you down on your face. I have learned how to take all of that and carry on,” Divya concluded.