Ahead of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL), which begins in New Delhi on Thursday, Gurpal Singh has had a busy week. Apart from the training sessions with the team, he has attended a couple of promotional events of his franchise Dilli Veer and travelled home on a regular basis. But Gurpal is not complaining. The Punjab wrestler knows the significance the league holds for him and how, by doing well, can put him in the same league as the top Indian wrestlers.
For Gurpal, the PWL serves as a perfect platform to gain experience before the qualification rounds for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a dream he has set out to achieve. But three years ago, forget Olympics, he couldn’t even think of entering a wrestling arena.
An upcoming wrestler from Punjab, Gurpal was at the Rai sports hostel in Haryana for a national camp when life took an unexpected turn.
Gurpal was returning to the hostel when three people — two men and a woman — blocked his way. Gurpal did not know who they were and thinking they were cops in civilian clothes, asked for their identity cards, which they refused. It was then that Gurpal panicked and sped away his car. At least 15-16 rounds of bullets were fired at him as he fled. On reaching the hostel, he realised that a bullet had pierced his back. Wounded, Gurpal was rushed to the nearby hospital.
Following an operation doctors advised him to stay away from wrestling for at least a year. “That was the lowest point of my life. I was shattered to hear that. All I wanted to do was somehow return to the mat,” Gurpal recalls.
Staying away from the game was not an option for Gurpal as wrestling was all he had ever since he was a kid. “From the fittest wrestler, I turned into overweight and unfit. For three months I didn’t do any physical exercise and it looked as if I would never wrestle again,” Gurpal recalls.
Disheartened and looking for a new start, Gurpal decided to move to the US. After a few days at his cousin’s house in Seattle, Gurpal thought of resuming training.
“My family has a rich wrestling history. My uncle Kartar Singh is an Arjuna and Padmashri awardee while my cousin Randhir Singh is also an Arjuna award winner. Ye trend banaye rakhna tha (I had to keep the family tradition alive),” Gurpal says.
The 24-year-old’s road to recovery began when he joined a camp in Colorado Springs. Initially, the pain was unbearable but Gurpal slowly picked up pace and after a month was doing light weightlifting and even playing an odd game of basketball.
“Gym and heavy training was a problem so I had to first start easy. Even my diet had changed, so I focused on that as well,” he says.
His family, meanwhile, had decided to shift base to Delhi from Jalandhar. And when he returned from the US, the family supported Gurpal to realise his dream. “The best part has been my family. They never once asked me to stop wrestling or put pressure of any sorts,” says Gurpal, who is the lone wrestler from Punjab in the PWL.
And the hard work paid off when he won the gold at the Punjab state games two years ago and the same year went on to win the bronze in the 97 kg category at the 2013 National Games.
But his glory moment arrived when he defeated Satyawart Kadian to win the gold at the Kerala National Games earlier this year. High on confidence after becoming the national champion in the 97 kg category, Gurpal is excited for the challenge the PWL presents.
“This league is a great opportunity to showcase my talent at a bigger stage. In my weight category there is Kadian and Mausam Khatri from India and Odikadze Elizbar, Yuri Maier, Polvo Olyinik and Javier Cortina Lacerra, who all are internationally acclaimed wrestlers. I will fight to win,” Gurpal says.
At the auctions last month, Delhi franchise coach Surjit Maan asked the owners to pick Gurpal. “He is the best in his weight category in India. We bought him for his base price. He’s a catch. He will prove his worth in the league,” Mann, coach of Dilli Veer, says.