You know Nitu Ghanghas. You've seen her fearlessly take out opponents in the boxing ring, and you've seen on top of podiums accepting gold medals for India at every major event in the last year.
But do you know her journey to the big leagues?
The struggles of being one of the first girls from her village to take up a sport, the self-doubt that followed her through her teenage years, the nights her family hardly had food on the table.
You know Nitu Ghanghas as India's 2022 Commonwealth Games and a 2023 World Championship gold medallist, but here is the story of how Nitu and her family spent the last decade dreaming of the podiums.
The day Vijender Singh won India's first boxing Olympic medal back in 2008, the streets of Bhiwani lit up in celebration. Among those celebrating was Jai Bhagwan, Nitu's father, who decided the next time the streets of Bhiwani celebrate a boxing champion, they would come from his home and there started Nitu's journey, and her family's dedication to a dream, and their collective efforts to give India a world champion.
'People can say what they want, we don’t care about them. We have an open thinking. You should always keep an open mind,' Nitu's mother Mukesh Devi tells us as we visit their home on the outskirts of Bhiwani in Haryana.
It had just been a few weeks since her World Championship-winning campaign at the big event in the capital and the family was only just getting used to having people come home and visit, having neighbours check in on them. Because for the last 10 years, Nitu Ghanghas and her family had all but shut off the outside noise.
People who greeted them on the streets now, were the same who questioned their collective dedication to Nitu's career. Women who come and meet her mother, were the same who questioned Nitu when she stepped out alone to go for her training.
'When I had just started and used to go to train, people in the village would ask how I am going alone. One day when I was going for training, a woman asked me where I was going and I told her I was going for practice. I had to reach at 4:30. She asked me if I was going alone. I felt very bad about that, about being questioned on why I didn't have my brother along to drop me. I came home and cried to my mother that day. She told me not to worry, she said as long as my family was supporting me and was on my side, I shouldn’t listen to what other people have to say,' says Nitu recalling one of the earlier setbacks in her career.
For a young teenager though, the outside noise wasn’t as easy to block out, and so came the defining moment in their household . Her father Jai Bhagwan, a Haryana Vidhan Sabha employee in Chandigarh at the time, decided his daughter’s dreams were bigger than anything else and quit his job to focus on her career.
'Daily he would take me for training. When I would train for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening, he would stand outside in the heat or cold. Some days he wouldn't eat because he would be busy with my training. He faced quite a lot of difficulties for me,' recalls Nitu while reminiscing the family's early struggles.
'Everyone said I’d gone mad that I had left my job to support her career,' said Nitu's father when talking about big decision to quit. 'I slowly cut off from everyone and stopped going anywhere. We visited our relatives also just once in 3-4 years. They also used to wonder what we were doing that we wouldn’t go anywhere. But we didn’t listen to anyone, we just focused on Nitu,' he added.
She had the unending support and confidence of her family but inside the boxing ring, Nitu was just not being able to translate practise into performance. With no big wins even at the state level and seeing her family struggle financially, with no working member, Nitu considered quitting the sport entirely.
'We had financial problems at home because there was no job or salary,' she shares.
'We asked our neighbors for help, we asked our relatives also but then we realised till when will we borrow money from them? Then we took a loan from the bank and we couldn’t even repay the loan. We had nothing.'
'At that time I thought I’d leave boxing. After training I would see we just had a simple roti for dinner, with some chutney. That’s all we could afford. At night, I would cry that we had nothing, and my father would still take me daily for training. Where was the money coming from? I thought it would be better if I quit boxing'.
But despite severe financial difficulties that forced Jai to sell his wife's jewellery to put on the table, Nitu's family stayed on track. They had dreamed a dream together, and they would support Nitu with everything they had.
'Everyone started to say my father had gone mad and told him to go back to his job. He didn’t listen to anyone. I have had a lot of support from my family,' added Nitu smilingly before telling us about her big breakthroughs that followed.
From the lowest of life’s moments that were filled with so many questions and so much doubt, Nitu Ghanghas’ career rose to the greatest of heights.
From not winning a medal even at the State level, Nitu went onto win a gold at the Junior World Championships in 2017 and 2018.
And then came the big leagues, the Commonwealth Games gold in Gold Coast in 2022, before the big one - the World Championship at home in March of 2023.
Nitu Ghanghas and her family's dreams were finally fulfilled. And she's only just 22.