It's a mere coincidence that as I am writing this story, the theater near our place is flocked with the audience for 'Dangal', a Bollywood movie, with the story of a wrestler father training his young daughters to become world-class wrestlers. So let me clarify, this story is not the outcome of an inspiration from the movie, rather a strong desire to find a female who belittles the norms of patriarchal society that thinks females are best when they are submissive and shy —and are beautiful only when they are clad in nurturing feminine gesture.
I recently got acquainted with Soni Khadka, a Nepalese ITF Taekwondo player. Our few minutes talk inspired me to know more about her and her journey in this game; the game well known for its kick-jumps and grappling techniques. The game is associated with strength and has a high probability of breaking bones if gone wrong. Thus, has the high chances of not being the game of the first choice because of its physicality and risks. However, Soni, only at the age of 20, has already been selected as a “National Player” and also a trainer for school children, she definitely must have started playing at a much younger age. I was curious to know what prodded her towards the game.
Soni’s Taekwondo story started at the age of 12. As a child, she was always teased by boys for her dark complexion and plump body. She wished taking revenge on them by fighting back. Being raised in a family which had seven daughters, she always felt the desire of being like a son to her parents. One day, she made a random decision to join taekwondo training at school. She wasn’t serious about it but her coach definitely was. He motivated her towards it. She took the training as she could threaten the boys with her taekwondo skills. However, she still wasn’t sure about continuing it. Then, she got an opportunity to participate in the district level championship and surprisingly won a gold medal that changed her life. Why wouldn’t it? After all, it’s a huge achievement for a 14-year-old. “After that event, I bought a proper dress for my training as for two years I used to train wearing a skirt which was really uncomfortable. I knew I needed to focus now onwards,” reminisces Soni.
The girl from Bhaktapur had never imagined she'd be wearing a gold medal when she started her journey as a player. Now she wishes to wear an Olympic gold medal around her neck someday. The conditions are that this reality sounds like fiction but she is determined that her reality will mirror fiction. Though she could only win a bronze in the recently held National Game, she isn’t disappointed, rather determinant to work harder for the gold as she says, “When gold medals are around my neck, I feel like I am at the top of the world and I can do anything to make them mine.”
Interest in women’s sports is on the rise, but one can go far only when one is determined to take the risks, opines Soni. She shares, “Taekwondo is not just a physical game but also a mental game." What we need is the strength to handle all the troubles that come along with our journey and the determination to continue. I remember those days when I used to lose all the games and also had to fight with parents for training. Different social issues arise, especially for women; we are judged for coming home late, even our relationships with our coaches and trainers are misinterpreted but we need to be strong.”
The government doesn't provide proper support to players which makes the life of athletes harder than it already is. At the same time, females face added social and family pressure to leave a sport that is seen as overly aggressive and masculine. Amid all these, Soni is gritty when it comes to taekwondo.
“Choosing to do taekwondo was the best decision in my life. I started it to prove myself as a son but when I have made my journey so far, I feel it's not about proving rather about becoming and finding myself," she shares. “I am me because of Taekwondo. It’s my identity. I will never drop out because I won’t be me the day I drop out from the game."
All in all, this girl is made up of courage, determination, toughness, talent, guts and sacrifice and I am sure, her strength will definitely lead her to success.