It is 5 am and most four year olds are in bed but not Snehal Sargar. She is wide awake and all set to begin her wrestling practice along with 40 other girls at the Jog Maharaj Vyayamshala (akhara) — Maharashtra's first wrestling school for girls.
International wrestling referee Dinesh Gund, who was inspired by the performance of women wrestlers at wrestling competitions, established the centre six years ago in Alandi. "I have seen many women wrestlers from other states, but not Maharashtra, participating in competitions. I decided to do something to promote this sport in Maharashtra," he says.
Initially, just three girls turned up for training. But when they were selected in the police force on the basis of their physical strength, others realised the importance of wrestling and began sending their children for training. A lecturer in accounting at the Hutatma Rajguru College in Khed, Gund left his job in 2006 to become a full-time wrestling coach.
At his centre, girls aged between 10 and 18 years come from as far as Kolhapur, Solapur, Sangli, Dhule and Yavatmal. They stay at the centre where they have a mess facility and attend school and college within and outside Alandi. Three training sessions are held in a day- the first begins at 5 am when the students go for a three-km jog. In the second session of 90 minutes, Gund prepares them for competitions by teaching them wrestling tactics and in the third session in the evening, the students participate in internal wrestling practice.
According to Gund, education is the key factor in any sport, especially wrestling. "I have seen many strong male wrestlers fail in their career due to lack of tactics. Only education will give you the knack to know when to apply tactics," he says. Gund lays emphasis on education and ensures that every girl at his centre goes to school and college. "I don't want to create wrestlers who are less educated," he says.
The centre has a mat for practice and a rope for climbing. Every Sunday, the budding wrestlers run 11 km. Besides, they have to do swimming, skipping and rope climbing during the week. Interestingly, the girls also have to wrestle with boys every week to build endurance. Gund pays attention his students' that has less fat and more of fruit juices, proteins, milk and vegetables. "For a wrestler, food is the most important factor. A wrestler has to consume less fat to remain supple and react quickly," he says.
Among his brightest students are state and national-level wrestlers such as Manisha Divekar, Varsha Bichkule, Harshda Sanas, Shashikala Bidkar, Yashree Khadse, Rajshree Kamble, Ashwini Borade and Rani Mane.
"Sir saw me during a school wrestling competition and spoke to my parents and brought me to the centre for training," says Borade, who was selected by Gund.
Gund's daughter Ankita won a gold medal in the Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship in Bangkok in the 38 kg category in July. She became the first woman wrestler from Maharashtra to be selected for the World Cadet Championship in Hungary. Sadly, she was defeated in the third round by a Ukrainian wrestler. "I took up wrestling after watching my grandfather and father slugging it out in the courtyard. When I turned eight, I wrestled with my father and siblings. Wrestling for about an hour every morning has become a routine for me," she says.Dinesh Gund trains girls at the centre