Let me just give you a quick snap of Sumo Wrestling. Just close your eyes and start building a picture of this sport. What do you see? You see two heavyweight Japanese men inside a round and open ring, right? I saw the same. But let us add a pinch of spice/masala (because that’s what we Indians love) and imagine the same sport in the Indian environment?
What do you see now? Honestly, I cannot even build an imaginary picture, to say the least. And for all those, who had a similar thought, we need to stop stereotyping because a certain Hetal Dave, who is now India’s first and only female professional Sumo Wrestler, has already portrayed herself on the international scale. In an age where we fantasised about having a laboratory like Dexter or superpowers like Powerpuff Girls, Hetal decided she ‘wanted something different.’
In a country where a majority of patrons cannot construct their mind above Cricket, football and say badminton, choosing a sport like Sumo Wrestling, which is not even a recognized sport in India, takes a beating. Hetal’s mind, though, was focused and for that, she started her Judo lessons at the tender age of 6 and only a year later, played her first tournament.
“The sport I began my sporting career was Judo. My Coach used to regularly travel to Japan, and used to come back and show us the basics of the sport. It had immediately caught my attention,” Hetal was quoted by Sportskeeda.
So how did she got into Sumo Wrestling you ask? Well, Hetal practised Judo under her coach Cawas Billimoria who also taught sumo wrestling at the club. She would step up as an opponent some time and this is how she got into the sport.
Though she knew her journey of reaching the pinnacle would not be an easy one, her brother and her father reinforced her in every way possible. However, to begin with, Hetal needed an opponent which she, well…. hadn’t. In turn, she decided to train with her male counterparts. But getting the techniques right is a must in any sport, and for that to happen, Hetal decided to learn the basics from the internet.
“Through my observations and previous Judo experience I started fighting against the Men, I was defeating three out of five times. Post that I took the help of youtube and started getting my basics right.”
This bore fruits and her big break came in 2008 when she qualified for her first World Championship. Hetal would go on to battle for bronze but narrowly missed out on that.
Thanks to a drubbed infrastructure – if there had any – Hetal found herself in the middle ground without any sponsor. But with a Dunkirk spirit guiding Hetal right from the beginning led to her representing India in Estonia, Poland and Taiwan. Her hard work paid off in 2009 World Games in Taipei where she went on to finish fifth in the middleweight category.
“When I was travelling for the World Championship to Estonia, I was very nervous as I was going alone again. But, once the Sumo Wrestling fraternity of Tallinn came to know I was going there, there was Euphoria. The City’s Mayor himself came down to receive me and his daughter asked me about why I took up the sport and why I didn’t want to move abroad. I told her I wanted to represent my Country.”
Judging by the looks, you won’t find Hetal looking like your ‘typical sumo wrestler’ and she believes it is all in one’s mind. Despite all this hard work, Hetal travels on a short budget and although she has garnered the attention of journalists, the bitter truth is, she struggles in finding a sponsor.
As things stand right now, Hetal is a Judo tutor and hopes of getting a job which would help her in getting back on track. “I will need funds. I will need a space or no one will take me seriously,” she says.