Physically disabled, told by doctors he could never walk: World Champion Sangram Singh just can't give up
The sheer size of India’s sporting landscape offers us unsung stories about sportspersons, who overcame grave financial troubles to become superstars. A man-made problem such as lack of resources can be fixed, but what if you were born with physical disability? How would you initiate a sporting journey, let alone chart one?
Every now and then, the audacity of hope often trumps natural problems. The journey of Oscar Pistorious to break the 11 second 100m mark without a leg is one such feat. However, you don’t have to go all the way to South Africa for knowledge about such unsung journeys.
Current Commonwealth professional World Champion Sangram Singh was paralysed due to severe arthiritis, till he can remember. A visit to his local ‘akhada’ in Haryana’s Madina village, saw him first experience the sport of wrestling.
He told Sportskeeda, “When I first saw wrestling i was on a wheelchair, I realised that those were the kind of feats I wanted to do once in my life. I asked the Coach whether he would let me my upper body with them. He saw me and told me that even if I was able-bodied I wouldn’t be able to do it. That was the situation which motivated me to get better.”
From not being able step outside his wheelchair to walking 30 km for training
At the age of eight, Doctors said that Sangram would never be able to walk again. However, after four years of continuous treatment, he was finally started walking. He said, “I first started by taking three steps at a time, I practiced this for a long time. Ayurvedic medicines strengthened my lower body enough that I could start running. Post that I started wrestling.”
After the local village akhada barred him from joining, Sangram walked 30 kilometres bare foot a day for practice. Born to a family of agricultural workers, spending Rs 100 on travel everyday was not a plausible option.
The first few competitive fights were hysterical to say the least. Sangram would collapse to the floor in the first 30 seconds, due to improper balance and strength. After sympathising with his situation, fellow villagers contributed milk and food to help Sangram eat healthy protein-rich food.
In 2001, he participated in his first ever State Championship, Sangram managed win a silver in the 120 kg Greco Roman division. Within eight years, the Mumbai based wrestler went from being physically handicapped to one of his state’s top grapplers.
After two years of mixed results, Sangram surprised strong Greco Roman field to win silver at the Senior Nationals. He was selected to represent Delhi, at the All India Police Games. Sangram said, “At that period of time the All India Police Games used to be the most prestigious event. I won bronze there defeating the number on Greco Roman wrestler in India.”
A major upset prompted an immediate international call-up, from the Indian team. Part of the 2005 national team attending the Senior World Championship in Budapest, Sangram made a call to his village wrestling coach. He said, “I called him and told him that never ever dissuade someone from doing anything, they might take it to heart. He had told me that a serious wrestler is one who represents India abroad. So, now I was representing India.”
Success at other tournaments such as the Juan Rives Classic, where he won gold in the 96 kg category also saw Sangram sent to Russia for training. He went on his expenses.
Preparing for 2010 Commonwealth Games, Sangram injured himself during a fight in Dubai. Around this time, he received his first professional wrestling offer He said, “I didn’t know what pro wrestling was at the time, so I didn’t want to get into all that. However, since I wasn’t paid anything then, they offered me a salary of Rs 90,000, so I said yes as I required the money.”
However, this also meant a long absence from amateur wrestling. The Greco Roman style only had a few slots restricted to top nation, India could barely send a constant representative. Hence, the World Championship was a mecca for the multiple state champion.
World Championship success
Also, working as a motivational speaker for the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) in 2014/15, he was a part of various pro-wrestling tournaments across the world. In 2015, Sangram made a return to mat wrestling with the Commonwealth professional heavyweight Championship.
He convincingly defeated Joe Legend from Canada in the final to lift the World Championship for the very first time. Sangram said, “It was a very emotional moment for me. I had dreamt of this day for a long time, staying away from the sport for such a long time that too. I thought I wouldn’t win it, but I was thinking carefree.”
One year later in March this year, Sangram repeated the feat in Port Elizabeth, after defeating South Africa’s Ananzi to retain his title. The back to back World Champion now wants others to turn pro as well.
Having participated in the amateur circuit, Sangram also spoke about the Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav controversy. He said, “I feel such decisions should always be on the Federation. They should be treated as the sole decision making body. Only then can there be a proper system. Both Sushil and Narsingh are close friends of mine, and the situation is a very difficult one.”
He also has the unique record of being the first wrestler to represent India in both amateur and professional wrestling.
The 30-year old has started his own scholarship programme to help young wrestlers, attain a good education, so that they can also sustain themselves outside the sport. 50 wrestlers from different universities will receive scholarship, based on their growth in education and sport.
He added, “I firmly believe that sports can create a mind that can adapt to anything. Since, it’s not easy to become a wrestler in India, I want them to have other options as well. I can tell our Olympians get Rs 50 lakhs but the guy who lost out in the final by one or two points is struggling to survive. I don’t want to see that situation here.”
In an attempt to help the sport get visibility amongst the mass, Sangram is using the television celebrity medium to promote himself. After shows such as Bigg Boss and Nach Baliye, he has offers for various regional films. He has also accepted an international TV series.
He added, “I want people to know that wrestlers can survive across different fields. And the sport is a teacher, hence more visibility will see that happen.”
Now preparing for next year’s Championship, Sangram Singh has set an example for people to never give up on their goals, and most importantly, life.