On 29 August 2020, ardent Indian kabaddi fans had a lot to celebrate with Krishan Kumar Hooda (Dronacharya - Lifetime achievement award), Manpreet Singh (Dhyan Chand award) and Indian kabaddi captain Deepak Niwas Hooda (Arjuna award) being bestowed with honours for their contributions to Indian kabaddi.
Deepak Hooda, who had led India to a gold medal at the South Asian Games in December 2019, was unsurprisingly brimming with joy on receiving the award, reaping the rewards of his consistent performances both for India and in the Pro Kabaddi League.
“Arjuna Award is the biggest award for a kabbadi player, and many big players have won it before. So for my name to be alongside theirs, it’s like a lifetime achievement. Playing for the country was itself a dream and now after playing for so many years I have got the award, it’s a mark of success. I am feeling very proud," Deepak Hooda said in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda.
Deepak Hooda's CV boasts of multiple gold medals for India at the international level, but none closer to his heart than the 2016 World Cup win at Ahmedabad.
However, the ace Jaipur Pink Panthers all-round credits the Pro Kabaddi League for instilling a breath of fresh air which has eventually also transformed him into one of the country's most iconic sports stars.
“Pro Kabaddi has contributed a lot. Before that, the plan was only to play for India and get a job. The PKL has brought with it a lot of respect for us, in addition to financial aid. We are now recognised not only in India, but all over the world. Wherever we go, be it airports, stadiums or wherever else, a lot of people come to meet us. Even cricketers’ children come and meet us," he said.
Apart from his heroics on the raiding and defensive front on the mat, Deepak Hooda is often labelled as one of the fittest players in the sport. And, it comes as no surprise that he's been talked about in the same breath as Indian cricket team captain, Virat Kohli.
Despite the lockdown forcing the stars to remain indoors and unearth innovative techniques to go about their fitness routines, Deepak Hooda spoke about how he's ensured a proper training schedule to keep in shape throughout the year.
“I have always concentrated on fitness. I have been playing since PKL season 1, and I know if one needs to play for longer, fitness is of paramount importance. Kabaddi is a rough tough game, despite being so fit we still pick up injuries. Without fitness you can’t play at all. Even since the lockdown began, despite knowing that the PKL might not happen, I have maintained my fitness to make sure I stay in shape," Deepak Hooda added.
It's been over four years since Deepak Hooda made his Indian team debut, which was under the stewardship of Anup Kumar at the 2016 World Cup in Ahmedabad.
Deepak Hooda eager to win gold medals at the World Cup and Asian Games
A gold medal win from that competition was only the beginning of Deepak Hooda's list of accomplishments, and since then, he's been a part of the Indian team's title-winning campaigns at the 2018 Kabaddi Masters, 2019 South Asian Games among other big wins.
Yet, India's bronze-medal finish at the 2018 Asian Games is a result that Deepak Hooda wants to better in the next edition of the competition, apart from a triumph at another World Cup.
“The future plan is to win a gold medal in the next World Cup and the Asian Games again. Hoping to win another gold medal for India at the Asian Games,” Deepak Hooda said.
With some pyrotechnics in the past seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League and for the Indian team, Deepak Hooda is undoubtedly one of the biggest role models for youngsters taking up the sport.
And, having experienced the ups and downs of life before and after the inception of the PKL, Deepak Hooda had some words of advice for the younger crop of kabaddi players.
“PKL has brought name, fame and has helped the financial conditions of players. I feel in a few years from now, this will be India’s No.1 league. But, you still need to work very hard. Kids these days want to get into the PKL immediately but first you need to focus on skills and if you improve it, you will definitely get selected and your family will be benefitted a lot," Deepak Hooda concluded.
With the coronavirus pandemic putting a screeching halt on kabaddi events and in particular the PKL, Deepak Hooda is making sure he leaves no stone unturned in his approach to remain fit and raring to go when the decks clear for action.
As for die-hard fans of Deepak Hooda and the Jaipur Pink Panthers, they'll know for sure that the ace all-rounder is not someone who will rest on his laurels, and when the PKL commences soon enough, he'll give it all he has in a bid to win an elusive Pro Kabaddi League trophy.