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Runaway kid is now kickboxing champ

It is difficult to believe that this world-class sportsman ran away from his home nearly two decades ago, only to make it to the national kickboxing team.

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Runaway kid is now kickboxing champ
Shivalak Raj
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    Shivalak Raj reaches the practice ground sharp at 6 am daily, to polish his moves. The 27-year-old is preparing for his first international kickboxing championship — the World Kickboxing Championship, 2017 — to be held in Budapest, Hungary, from November 3 to 12.

    It is difficult to believe that this world-class sportsman ran away from his home nearly two decades ago, only to make it to the national kickboxing team.

    Raj, who hails from the Madhepur village in Bihar, has a Black Belt in karate and has won 25 gold medals at national level, and five gold medals and two silver medals in international karate championships. He started kickboxing in 2010. Again, he won a gold medal at the 18th national kickboxing championship in 2011. But no medal has made him forget his past.

    "I was about seven years old. My stepmother rebuked me all the time. We were poor and my father used to run a small grocery kiosk. He sent me to work at a judge's house as domestic help in exchange of a small piece of farm land. One day, the judge's son beat me. I told my father that I won't work there anymore, hearing which he also thrashed me. Then, I took a train to Delhi," he said.

    Raj had planned to go to his uncle's place in Delhi but did not have the address.

    TTHe started working for a tea stall owner at the railway station, who provided him with food and shelter but no money.

    In a few months, Raj had made some friends. He quit his work at the tea stall and started ragpicking with them. One day, a volunteer from an NGO for children brought him to a shelter home in central Delhi's Paharganj and got him admitted to school. Later, he was moved to another shelter home, set up by the Delhi Metro at north Delhi's Tis Hazari, which, too, was run by the NGO.

    "When I was in Class X , I saw my seniors at the shelter practising karate. I told them I wanted to join. They taught me and I started playing for the school. They then took me in the team and got me enrolled at the YMCA," the champion said, while warming up at a stadium in Noida.

    Joining YMCA proved to be a turning point in Raj's life. He was noticed by his coach, who referred him to the Chhatrasal Stadium. "After I won a silver medal in the 2005 Asian Games in karate, there was no looking back," said Raj, who is now married and has a one-and-a-half-year-old son.

    The kickboxing champion lives in a Greater Noida house on rent. He's now looking for a sponsor for the upcoming Hungary championshipm, to be held at the Budapest stadium.

    "I can't ever thank the NGO people enough for bringing me here. They have told me that if I don't get a sponsor, they will pay for it. I am practicing night and day to win a gold and make the country proud," he said.

    In all these years, Raj has visited his home only once, in 2006. "Even though I remembered my address, I didn't want to return. I went back only after becoming a national karate champion, but my father was indifferent. My brothers, however, cried. I sometimes meet my brothers," he said, wrapping up his practice.

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