Rising Indian pugilist Ankushita Boro's gold medal feat at the recently concluded AIBA Youth Boxing World Championships has made her an overnight sensation, but not many are aware that the 17-year-old contemplated quitting the sport just a couple of years ago.
Hailing from the nondescript Meghai Jarani village in Sonitpur district of central Assam, Ankushita recently captured the imagination of thousands of fans in sports-crazy Guwahati, where she clinched the gold medal in the light welterweight (64 kilogram) category.
Thanks to that win she received a cash prize of Rs 6.7 lakh on Friday from Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, besides Rs 2 lakh from Boxing Federation of India (BFI) President Ajay Singh, in his personal capacity.
Breaking out of shackles
But life has not been all rosy. Ankushita's love for the gloves and headgear surprised many in her native place, situated approximately 200 kilometres from Guwahati, where the sport is still in its nascent state.
Born to a primary school teacher on probation, Rakesh Kumar, and mother Ranjita, who is a social worker, Ankushita started her journey at 11, when she travelled 165 km for trials at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Golaghat.
The youngster made rapid strides in the sport under Tridib Bora but the sorry state of affairs in Indian boxing made her re-think about a career in boxing.
"When I took up the sport in 2012, I was fortunate enough to get all the facilities, including a very supportive coach in Tridib sir, but things gradually started turning worse day by day," Ankushita told IANS.
Fight against forced demotivation
"There was turmoil in the functioning of the governing bodies both at home and in the Centre, and also lack of proper tournaments did the rest to demotivate many youngsters like me.
"I also had my exams -- and for almost six months I didn't touch my gear; but thanks to my family, who supported and instilled confidence in me," she added.
The turnaround came only in September 2016, when Ajay Singh-led BFI took over the reins of the sport in the country.
Road to success arrived slowly...
Earlier this year, Ankushita clinched a bronze in the national youth championship before bagging silver medals in exposure trips such as the Ahmet Comert international tournament in Turkey and the Balkan youth international tournament in Bulgaria, helping her break into the national squad.
Asked about her experience during the Youth Worlds, where she grabbed the limelight amongst all her contemporaries, Ankushita said: "The wins in the first two rounds gave me confidence. There was also a bit of revenge involved when I beat Cagla Aluc of Turkey in the first round against whom I lost at the Ahmet Comret tournament."
"In the next round, I beat a strong Rebecca Nicoli of Italy, against whom I lost in Bulgaria. Those two wins gave me confidence," she added.
In the final, the local favourite gave her best against Ekaterina Dynnik, though the Russian was the toughest of all her rivals.
Eye on Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Despite winning the gold in 64kg, Ankushita said she is looking forward to coming down to her previous category of 60kg as she sets her eyes on the upcoming world elite women's championship in India next year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recently altered the weight categories, following which the 64kg category does not feature at the Games anymore.
Asked about what needs to be done to uplift the sport in Assam, Ankushita said: "There is a need to produce more coaches from Assam. Now we have coaches from other parts of the country; but when we have a local coach, it is easier to communicate and adjust during practice."
The youngster's rise can be seen as a catalyst, specially for the sport in the northeast when her idol, the five-time World Champion and London bronze medallist MC Mary Kom is in the twilight of her illustrious career.