Features Sunday, June 14, 2015 - 05:30

  Rita Priyanka hopes to represent India at international championships in a few months time, but it is perhaps an ironic twist of fate, that the Government of India does not recognise arm wrestling as a sport. If it did, Rita would have an easier time of pursing her passion and looking after her family. All of 23, Rita Priyanka is an arm wrestler from Palahalli village in Mandya district and hopes to represent India in the Asian and World Arm Wrestling Championship in Dubai in August and the World Championship in Italy in November. However, her hopes may be dashed if she cannot arrange the funds in time. Rita has only been an arm wrestler for a short time, but has been an athlete since the age of 14 when she participated in the annual “kushti’ (wrestling) competition during Mysuru Dasara celebrations in 2004. Her father Antony Raj, a wrestler himself in his younger days, encouraged her to take up the sport. Since then, Rita has come a long way, winning 16 gold medals in national wrestling championships. On keenly observing her for many years, her father’s friend and current coach K Vishwanath suggested that she take up arm-wrestling. Last year, with just two days of training, Rita secured a gold medal in the very first attempt at arm wrestling during the annual Dasara competition and earned the "Mysuru Chamundeshwari" title. Winning a match requires intense focus. "Eye-hand coordination is the key technique to win or lose a match because sometimes it gets decided in a split second, at the most a few seconds," Rita explains. It wasn’t an easy journey for Rita. The youngest of the three siblings and daughter of a farmer, meeting her training and food expenditure was difficult, she says. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and her brother too, was taken ill during this period. Despite this, she participated in many competitions and won. The cash prizes were utilised to fund her education and other expenses. As the tournaments draw nearer, the number of hours put into training will increase and so will her expenses. Every month, she spends nearly Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 on just food. Her diet comprises eggs, meat, dry fruits, and ragi. Fortunately, the expenditure on training is minimal as her coach Vishwanath has decided to train her free of cost in a gym that he owns.  Vishwanath, a body builder himself, formed the “Karnataka Arm Wrestling Association” four years ago to introduce “panja kushti” (arm wrestling) in the state. He says the sport has mention in the Mahabharata when Bhima and Jarasandha engaged in “panja khusti” to settle who was stronger. In contemporary India, Chandrashekar Azad introduced and enjoyed “kalai panja” during his days, he says. “Though arm wrestling was present in India for the last 40 years, its existence in Karnataka was minimal because of lack of awareness that it could be taken up professionally,” he says. Government recognition would contribute to its popularity, he adds. The government of India and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) do not recognise arm wrestling as a sport. The push to recognise and include the sport in the Olympics has not met with much success. Vishwanath also says that one does not require much money for the sport: weight training at the gym, outdoor running and exercises, and a special table for arm wrestling are all one needs. Rita’s only aim now is to secure a government job to stabilise her family’s financial condition, but had the sport been recognized by the government, her goal would have been easier to realize. The coach and his student both have dreams. Rita plans to start an all-women gymnasium so that she can train more girls to take up arm wrestling, and Vishwanath wants to see one of his arm wrestling students win an Ekalavya award.