Sonam Malik, aged 19, will be grappling for gold in the 62kg category at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But barely 4 years ago, in 2017, it seemed that Sonam would never be able to get bck on the mat again. She was paralysed on her right side by a nerve-related twinge on her right shoulder, that also affected the right arm. All this soon after she was won gold at the World Cadet Championships in Athens, Greece.
Sonam was devasted as she was out of action for six months.
“She couldn’t hold her arm up. She wasn’t able to grip anything with any strength. The diagnosis was that the nerves in her shoulder were simply not transmitting any impulses down to her arm. The doctor told her to forget about wrestling and think how she would live from there onwards," Ajmer Malik, Sonam’s coach, told TOI.
Hailing from Madina village in Haryana’s Sonipat district, Sonam has been under the tutelage of Ajmer at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Sports Complex in Madina since 2014.
“The doctor said if it was in Sonam’s destiny, then she would recover," he added.
Sonam’s father, Rajender Malik, who was a wrestler himself in his younger days, helped her daughter recover.
“Due to my limited earnings, I couldn’t afford to get her treated by any renowned doctor in a big city. We used desi (ayurvedic) methods to heal her. I think God wanted Sonam to be on the mat again, that’s why she recovered in just six months," recalled Rajender.
After a year of recovery, Sonam returned to the mat in 2018 and won bronze medals at the Asian Cadet Championship and World Cadet Championship. She went onto win another World Cadet gold the next year.
Once she graduated to the senior level, she made waves in early 2020 when she beat Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik at a national trial in Lucknow. Sonam has got the better of Sakshi three more times since.
Sonam qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in early 2020 by winning her clashes against China’s Jia Long (5-2) and Chinese Taipei’s Hsin Ping Pai (11-0) to enter the semi-finals of the Asian Olympic Games qualifiers in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Sonam made a spectacular comeback from 0-6 to 9-6 to beat World Championships bronze medallists Ayaulym Kassymova of Kazakhstan to secure her place in the Olympics.
“She (Sonam) is very quick on the mat. She is very flexible and the most important quality she possesses is that she can lift opposition on her shoulder with effortless ease and throw her down on the mat," Ajmer tells when asked what makes Sonam stand out. “The good thing about Sonam is that she seldom takes any kind of pressure," said chief national women’s coach, Kuldeep Malik.
Young Sonam will make her Olympic bow on August 4.
“I know there is a lot of competition in my category. I know I am not one of the favourites to win, but on my day I can defeat the best. If anyone takes me lightly, it’ll be at their own peril," Sonam said.
“I have studied the video footage of my competition and have made my plans accordingly."