Aizawl sleeps reasonably early. But in the wee hours of Monday morning, a tiny home tucked away in its outskirts, was wide awake, milling with people, none of whom had any plans of sleeping. It was an important night for the Lalrinnunga family: their 15-year-old son Jeremy was competing in the men’s 62kg weightlifting competition at the Youth Olympics Games, which currently underway, at Buenos Aires in Argentina.
And while the 50 people (friends, neighbours and family) who had gathered in the tiny house had to resort to checking results on the phone (the TV channel apparently did not telecast Jeremy’s entire game), the burst of cheer which sounded in the moment they got the news of his victory was “deafening”. “We all started hugging and shouting. Everyone was in tears,” says his father, Lalneihtluanga, who, back in the day, was a national level boxer himself.
Jeremy finished with a combined tally of 274 kg (124 kg in the snatch and 150 kg in the clean and jerk) and created history by becoming the first Indian to win a medal at the Youth Olympic Games. But the fact that he won, or that it was a gold, was no surprise. “He is very talented. His back shoulder is very strong and that gives him an added advantage,” says Malsawma Khiangte who first taught Jeremy how to lift weights using “bamboo sticks” and “water connection pipes” in Aizawl. It was at the Weightlifitng Academy at the State Sports Coaching Centre that Jeremy first trained, as an eight-year-old.
Later he was selected to train at the Army Sports Institute in Pune in 2012.
When he moved there at 8, it was also his first time stepping out of Aizawl. “I was not scared even if was a totally alien experience for me becasue two of my friends, Jacob Vanlaltluanga and Zakhuma, were also selected. We did full masti but we also learned a lot,” Jeremy says over the phone from Buenos Aires.
It’s been five years since he has moved. His mother Lalmuanpuii says, “I would cry everyday! And we would call him every single day for four years.” Now the frequency of calls, as her son lifts weights around the world, has reduced to three times a week. Earlier this year, Jeremy won a silver (youth) and a bronze (junior) in the Asian Championships.
Jeremy first started boxing when he was 7. His father Lalneihtluanga started boxing in 1988. “There was not much money in boxing back then. Your travel and stay would be paid for but that is it,” says Lalneihtluanga, adding that he never fulfilled his dream of representing India internationally. “That is why I wanted my sons to become boxers.” Jeremy moved from boxing to weightlifting because he wanted to build strength to box. “And I ended up sticking to weight-lifting,” he says. His daily routine starts with four-five boiled eggs, bread, a banana, porridge and milk. “I miss the boiled Mizo food a lot thought,” he says.
This determination and dedication is what has seen him through — from his early days as a boxer (trained by his father) in Aizawl all the way to the Youth Olympic games in Buenos Aires. “He would always come first in class,” says his aunt Vanlalchhari who sells vegetables and distributes newspapers to families across Aizawl every morning, “Whenever Jeremy appears in the paper, I tell whoever I am delivering the paper to, to turn first to page 12 (the sports section), and then the front page. My boy is in there.”
The eldest in the family, Jerry, 21, who works at the State government’s Public Works Department, was a boxer as well. The youngest, who is 9, will probably start boxing soon. In the locality everyone knows the strapping young Lalrinnunga brothers. “But no one is scared of us. We have never been into drugs or alcohol, or picked a fight with anyone,” says Jerry, “In fact, Jeremy is so focused that he doesn’t even entertain the scores of girls who are always trying to talk him!”
But Jeremy has other things to worry about — his journey to Buenos Aires was incredibly long. “It was my longest flight ever,” he says, adding that he is still coming to terms with the fact that it is night at home in Mizoram, while it’s morning in Buenos Aires. And while the 15-year-old wishes to do nothing more and come back home, he says he can “live with it” as long as he can bring a medal back.
“My father often tells me, focus and train, train and focus. And that’s what I am doing right now,” he says, and perhaps, forsees.