On Thursday morning, as 32-year-old Kavita Devi was preparing for conducting a WWE tryout information session at a local university in Mohali, her husband Gaurav Tomar got a call from their home in Uttar Pradesh. It was from their six-year-old son Abhijit Tomar and as India’s first woman wrestler to compete in WWE, Devi knows such calls happen daily and during her training sessions as well. Devi, who became the first Indian woman wrestler to sign a contract with WWE in 2017, had competed in the women’s Battle Royal in the WrestleMania in New Orleans last year and the Haryana wrestler is ready for taking part in more such tournaments.
“I was a weightlifter before I started wrestling in 2016. In 2012, when I gave birth to my son, I knew that I will return to the sport. Khel ke bina reh nahi sakti thi. That’s what my father Om Prakash Dalal taught me and supported me at our village Malvi in Jind district and I wanted to change the image of women from villages, who are often confined to their homes. When I heard about the trials at The Great Khali’s academy in Jalandhar in 2016, I wanted to make India proud in this format and although it meant that I had to stay away from my family including my son, I knew they would support me. Indian women have scaled Mount Everest, won medals in the Olympics and I want more and more women to come and compete in WWE too. When I competed in WrestleMania last year, I wanted to fight in salwar suit as I wanted the village women to see that and realise Bharatiya nari, sabh pe bhari,” said Kavita, who had won gold in weight-lifting in South Asian Games in Guwahati in 2016.
Kavita, the second-youngest of five siblings, started weightlifting and powerlifting at her village in 2003 and married Gaurav Tomar, a volleyball player, in 2009. While this meant she would shift base to Bijwara village in Baghpat district in Uttar Pradesh, Gaurav, who works in Seema Suraksha Bal, supported Kavita’s sporting career. After winning three gold medals in women’s 75-kg weightlifting event in SAG in Guwahati, Kavita appeared for trials at Khali’s academy before competing in the WWE tryout in Dubai in April, 2017. Some months later, she competed in Mae Young Classic in Orlando, USA. It was the same year, when Kavita got the WWE contract and later competed in WrestleMania and WWE Evolution.
“Competing in Mae Young Classic gave me a chance to prove my talent and when I got the WWE contract in 2017, it also meant that I had to go to WWE Performance Centre in Florida. I had attended national camps in weightlifting before but seeing and training with wrestlers, whom you had seen on TV, was something special. Din aur raat ka farak ho gaya. Everything is different there and it also teaches you many things. I was emotional when I competed in WrestleMania and I want to compete against WWE champion Ronda Rousey one day,” adds Kavita.
Her husband, Gaurav Tomar, remembers all the struggles the family had to face. “We knew each other before our marriage in 2009 as I was also a national-level volleyball player. After our son was born in 2012, Kavita resumed training after eight months. When she was training in Jalandhar for WWE, my younger sister Ruby Tomar would stay there to support Kavita and our son at our rented house. Since the past two years, my elder sister Bharti Tomar has been taking care of my son and his studies. But we all forget that when we see Kavita fighting,” said Gaurav.