'My Father's Olympic Dreams Are Now Mine'

Boxer Gaurav Bidhuri, bronze medalist at the World Boxing Championship, took 14 long years of struggle to fill into his father’s gloves and fulfill his dream. Rigorous training, painful injuries and constant criticism in the media… all played a part in charting his path of success. He is now chasing his father’s Olympic ambitions.

My father, Dharmendra Bidhuri, used to be a fiery young man. He would often pick up fights in his college or on the streets. A friend advised him to channelise his anger and fighting talent in a boxing ring. That advice changed his life. It also decided my fate, long before I was born. In two years, my father became the Delhi state champion in senior category and a national medalist. He was unstoppable. He had beaten some of the best boxers in the country. But just when he began to harbour an ambition to win an Olympic medal for India, he was forced by family elders to get married.

Due to financial constraints, my grandfather told him to hang up his gloves. A few years later, he started his own boxing club and trained boxers for free. Maybe his students could fulfill his dream, he thought. When I was 11, I joined my father’s academy. In the beginning, I was just an observer. Later, I would get into bouts with my seniors while my father quietly monitored my moves from a distance. In no time, my father began to believe that I could fulfill his Olympic dreams.

My training became more rigorous. I was studying at Frank Anthony Public School in Delhi and balancing my training in the ring with studies was an uphill task. I would wake up at 5 am for my morning training regime. Before the sweat could dry, I had to rush to school at 8. I came back from school 2:30 and went for tuitions from 3:30 pm to 5 pm. Then, once again, my evening session of training at 6 pm. There was little time for anything else. Some of my relatives questioned my father’s obsession. There is no future in boxing, they would say. My mother too was averse to my boxing. Which mother in the world would like to see her son return home with cuts and bruises every day?

But my father held his faith in me and my training continued along with my studies. I started doing well at the junior level. I became a state champion and then a junior national champion. Next, I went for my first international competition Junior World Boxing Championship, where I lost in the quarterfinals. I played at the youth national and international competitions but still could not secure a medal at the international level.

I participated in my first senior competition in 2011 at the National games and won a bronze medal.  I joined the senior national camp and with this, I was probably a step closer to my father’s dream, which by this time had become my dream too. I won my first international medal – a bronze – at the 2012 President’s Cup in Jakarta. This was followed by a long dry spell. I could not win a single medal at any of the international competitions.

I missed the London Olympic qualification which fueled a barrage of doubts in my abilities and left tongues wagging in the media. Some newspaper wrote ‘Gaurav is not an international material’. Sending me to any international competition was just a waste of time and resources. I was demoralised. In 2015, there was a turning point. An Italian boxing team called Italian Thunder selected me for World Series of Boxing. I played in six fights and won four. And then in 2016, I was hired by a team from the USA for World Series of Boxing. I became the only boxer from India who got two successive contracts from foreign teams. I must share my quarterfinals jinx here. I always reached there, then lost.

I lost out at the Olympic and the Asian Olympic qualifiers. The quarterfinals barrier remained my nemesis. But my father never lost hope. In 2017, I was selected in the national team for Asian Championship in 2017. Once again I lost in quarterfinals by a close margin. The loss and a new back injury left me disheartened. Exercises, such as running and jumping were a strict no-no. The hard luck came to an end later that year at a training camp in France. I came to know that I got a wild card entry for the World boxing championship 2017. It was unbelievable. With renewed vigour and confidence, I started training. I had finally got one more shot at fulfilling my father’s dream. From France we went to Czech Republic for Grand Prix and I won a gold. At the World Boxing Championship, I won quite a few bouts with some very distinguished boxers.

When I reached quarterfinals, I was nervous. But this time I had made up my mind. I will not go home without a medal. I broke the quarterfinal barrier. I won! I could not reach the finals. I lost to the USA in a close fight. But I wasn’t disheartened – after all, I had won a medal for India. I am the fourth only Indian to win a medal at the World Boxing Championship. Fourteen years of struggle has not gone waste. My father’s efforts have not gone waste. Struggle and injuries are part of a sportsman’s life and one should never get bogged down. Next Stop is Olympics… I have miles to go.