Rupinder Kaur grapples with ultimate sacrifice
She made the biggest mistake of her life heading into the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and now wrestler Rupinder Kaur is making the ultimate sacrifice in her quest for GC2018 redemption.
Wrestling has been Kaur’s whole life since she picked up the sport as a 12-year-old living in Tarn Taran, a small village in India.
It’s why the events of Glasgow, missing her designated weight category by 200 grams and having to fight up a weight division, were so devastating.
Now Kaur has made the heart-breaking decision to send her 19-month daughter to be with her mother in India, so she can focus completely on her Commonwealth Games dream.
It brings her to tears almost on a daily basis.
It’s the reason this time, she’s determined to do everything she can to fulfil a destiny, years in the making.
“This mat is my home; it is my life actually," Kaur told GC2018.com.
“I can die without wrestling. Whenever I sleep I dream about wrestling. Even when I was pregnant, I was dreaming about wrestling.
“From 12 years old, my whole life has been wrestling. Until my body is not fit and strong, my life is wrestling. I’m not going to leave.”
Kaur claimed the gold medal at the National Wrestling Championship in the 48kg class in May, putting her one step closer to qualifying for the 2018 Games.
It was a massive step on the comeback trail after becoming a mother. Kaur started training just six months after giving birth, but admits it took 12 months for her body to completely heal from the C-section.
With the Games fast approaching, Kaur’s sacrifice is a constant source of inspiration. Every time she gets home from training, the reality of what she’s given up to pursue this dream hits hard.
Her daughter’s absence is deafening in its silence.
“My daughter is just 19 months and I can’t explain myself, how hard for me it is. Every morning, I’m just missing her so much," she said.
“I don’t know how I can spend my three months. But once I jump on the mat, everything I do for wrestling, I’m doing for her. I need to be inspired.
“Whenever I think of my daughter away, I start crying, I’m missing her.
"Every day I’m looking at her face and I’m doing training, and now is a really hard part of my life. When I finish training, she’s not here. The toy is there, but she isn’t here.
“Whenever I go for training, I’m thinking I’m doing a big sacrifice to send my daughter away, just because of wrestling. I have to achieve something, I have to do something. I should do hard training, because of all of it.”
Kaur’s friendly and bubbly demeanor masks a fierce driven warrior hidden beneath the surface.
She’s won matches with a dislocated elbow, won essentially with an arm tied behind her back too. Nothing distracts her from the task at hand. Her focus is laser sharp.
When she was young she wrote in a diary that she wanted to become an international champion, but not even Kaur could have forseen what was to come.
Representing India in 2004, Kaur won a gold medal, pinning every single opponent in under 60 seconds.
It was a watershed moment, Rupinder Kaur had arrived.
It also changed a lot of perceptions about her and about women wrestlers in India. Culturally, it was a massive deal.
“It wasn’t common to be a wrestler and female when I started. Now it is okay, but when I started families really didn’t allow girls to wrestle," she said.
“My mum said no way, this is not a girls’ sport. She said wrestlers have broken ears, you won’t find a boy, you won’t get married, you won’t be able to wear earrings.
“I had four or five times my arm was dislocated. My mum was like, no more, stop doing this. Maybe one day you won’t be able to eat with your hands, you won’t be able to walk, and I was like, I’ll be fine.
“My training gym was 32km away and I was catching the bus to get there, so sometimes I would get home really late. It is hard, living in a small village and once I get back home, people would wonder why a woman was getting home so late all the time.
“What’s wrong with them, why are they allowing her to do that.
“But once I got that medal, mum was telling everyone in my hometown, my daughter got gold medal.
“Everything changed, even in my hometown, look at that girl, she is winning medals in wrestling, she is doing really well. Why don’t we put our girls in wrestling too.”
Kaur’s journey has brought her to Australia, where she became an Australian citizen in 2012. While she’s proud of her Indian heritage, there is no question that she now calls Australia home.
Wearing the green and gold is something she does with absolute pride.
“Once I came to Australia, I couldn’t go back. Australia is the best country in the world," she said.
“When I moved here I was thinking I would stay here for two years, finish my study and move back, but I couldn’t.
“I came here for study and then I bring my wrestling shoes and my singlets and I was thinking I would start wrestling. I found some clubs and really wanted to do wrestling. The club was like two hours away, I travel every day, I did my job, I studied and I did wrestling.
“I want to represent Australia and I want to be a good wrestler.
“I feel really proud. Some people ask me you are Indian and you are wearing Australian gear, shouldn’t you wear Indian, and I say no, I’m Australian.”
Kaur's journey will continue when she competes at the Australian National Selection Competition in Melbourne on 25 November.
All her training, commitment and sacrifice will be put to the ultimate test, with selection in the GC2018 team up for grabs.