When Amit Panghal was born he weighed just 1.5 kilograms — underweight for a baby boy. His mother Usha Rani spent many a sleepless night worrying why her new-born was not putting on weight. He was a premature baby and the mother wrapped him in cotton wool. When he reached middle school, Amit remained diminutive but soon the family realised he knew how to watch his back. Amit often got into scraps with bigger boys in school and his village — Mayna near Rohtak — but more often than not he held his own.
“When he was young we thought he was weak but what he lacked in terms of size he made up with a lion heart. He was a tough boy and had lots of will power,” Panghal’s mother Usha Rani said on the day he won India its only gold in boxing in the light flyweight (49 kg) category by beating current Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov.
It was also the country’s first gold in the 49kg class at the Asiad.
“He beat an Olympic champion and won the gold at the Asian Games. For us this is as good as an Olympic medal,” Rani adds.
Amit took to boxing after watching his older brother Ajay spar at the boxing academy run by coach Anil Dhankar. A decade back when he began boxing at the age of 12, he weighed 24 kilograms. The family was worried about his safety. “When he initially showed interest in boxing we were worried. He seemed too frail to take up a contact sport. However, coach Dhankar spoke highly of his determination and will power. We relented and allowed him to box,” Amit’s father Vijender says. “When he won the gold medal in sub-junior nationals in Maharashtra just two years later we were so proud of him. He went around the village showing everyone his medal,” Vijender adds.
The family owned a one-acre farm and had to take loans from relatives and friends to meet Amit’s training expenses. As coach Dhankar moved to the Combat Boxing Club in Gurgaon, he convinced Amit’s parents to let his trainee follow him.
“The income from our farm does not even meet our expenses. After he won the gold medal in the sub-junior nationals, I had to borrow some money from friends and relatives to support his training. Sometimes, when he would come home, he would eat only bananas and milk. He would tell us that he had to maintain his weight. His mother would be worried about his diet,” Vijender recalls.
The Panghal family is waiting for Amit to return so the celebrations can begin. His mother is planning to make Amit’s favourite choorma and kheer — sweets he has stayed away from as part of his fitness regimen. “Now that he has won the gold medal, he will eat choorma and kheer. I will be so happy that my boy is finally eating what he loves.”