Back in 2016, when a 14-year-year-old travelled to Ludhiana with father-cum-coach Rajesh Ahlawat to take part in the shooting of the movie Dangal, she was worried about her own training. Simran had already given an audition for the Salman Khan-starrer Sultan in which she played the role of one of Anushka Sharma’s trainees. But a longer shooting schedule for the Aamir Khan movie meant the budding wrestler had to leave after 10 days to compete in the Asian Cadet Championships in China.
The Delhi youngster returned with a gold medal and on Saturday, the 16-year-old became only the third Indian wrestler to win a medal at the Youth Olympics despite losing to Emily Shilson of the United States in the 43kg final in Buenos Aires.
“Jab Sultan movie ke liye audition diya tha, toh bhi Simran kehti thi, ‘asli movie to abhi ani hai’. Aur aaj ka medal jeet ke usne apni khud ki movie ki kahani likh di,” Ahlawat said.
They had their share of financial difficulties. “As a farmer, we had our financial difficulties and when we came to know about the auditions at Chandgi Ram Akhara for Sultan as well as Dangal, we went. She got Rs 10,000 for a day’s shooting for Sultan and was very happy. Simran also cleared the audition for Dangal but had to leave after 10 days for competing at the Asian Cadet Championships. She won gold and even though she misses being part of the movie, the medal means everything for her. Today also, she gave her best in the final but this silver medal at the Youth Olympics is also like a movie for all of us,” shared the 40-year-old.
“Her coach, Ricky Sihag died of a heart attack during training last year and this medal is also a tribute to him.”
Call of the roots
A native of Jhajjar district in Haryana, Ahlawat, a national-level wrestler himself, shifted base to Delhi in 2013 to further his daughter’s sporting career. While the youngster tried gymnastics and badminton initially, her father introduced her to wrestling and they stayed at the DESU Akhara for more than six months. After learning the basics, Simran shifted to the Tej Singh Akhara in 2015.
Badminton sessions, though, didn’t last long. “Simran was fascinated by badminton. When I decided to put her in the sport at the Ludlow Castle Sports Stadium, I would try to watch her train from a small window of the hall. The coaches will not let me watch the training and painted the window green. That was the reason she left badminton,” he said.
Her life, inevitably, revolved around wrestling. “Both of us stayed at the DESU Akhara and it meant that her life revolved around wrestling. My friends from the village and some relatives objected initially. Sometimes, we would not get training partners and I would pay small amounts of money to local male wrestlers to train with her. She would train for more than 4-5 hours in a day and I would spend close to Rs 400-500 paying the boys. We have eight acres of farm in our village and my younger brother Ravi manages it. A good harvest means we earn close to three lakh annually for the two families and sometimes, I had to borrow money from relatives,” the father said.
Simran won her first national title in the sub-junior and junior nationals in Srinagar in 2014 before winning the gold in China. She won a silver medal at the Asian Cadet Championships in Bangkok last year before a bronze at the World cadet Championships in Greece the same year. This year has brought a bronze at the Asian Cadet Championships in Tashkent, apart from the sub-junior national title in Pune.
She was understandably excited when she became the national champion in Srinagar. “When Simran became the national champion in Srinagar, she was very excited. It was also the first time that she had travelled so far. Whenever double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and mahabali Satpal sir visit the Tej Singh Akhara, she makes it a point to meet them and ask for tips apart from sharing her travel experiences from various countries.”
For mother Narender Kaur, the silver medal will mean Simran will ask for her favourite dish – paneer – again and again. “She loves her training and likes to have paneer almost every time. And now when she will return with the medal, she will ask me to prepare it to celebrate,” the mother said.