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For most of her life, Kavita Thakur, a member of the Indian women’s kabaddi team, lived in a cramped dhaba at her village Jagatsukh, 6km from Manali, Himachal Pradesh.
The 24-year-old, who helped India win gold at the 2014 Asiad, spent her childhood and teen years washing utensils and sweeping floors at the dhaba, which is run by her parents. Father Prithvi Singh and mother Krishna Devi still sell tea and snacks at the dhaba, while elder sister Kalpana gives them a helping hand.
“Even I used to work with my parents at the dhaba. I washed utensils, swept floors and did several other chores,” Kavita tells TOI.
“My childhood and teenage years were very difficult. In winter, we slept in the back of our shop on the floor. It was unbearable since the floor felt like ice. Back then we didn’t have money to buy mattresses. There were days when we didn’t make any money and we all went hungry,” she adds.
‘Took up kabaddi as it was not costly’
The gold medal at the 2014 Asiad shot her into limelight and the state government also pitched in with some financial assistance. Kavita and her family — parents, elder sister and younger brother Ashok Singh — have now moved to a rented accommodation near Manali town. “It was the happiest moment of my life when I could give my parents a proper house to live in,” says Kavita. “My younger brother can now get good education.”
“It is Kavita’s hard work and determination that has given us a roof over our heads. Some years ago, we couldn’t even think of living anywhere else other than our dhaba. We wish she brings more laurels for the country,” says mother Krishna Devi.
Kavita started playing kabaddi at her school in 2007. “I took up kabaddi because it wasn’t a costly sport,” she says. “In fact, my elder sister was a better kabaddi player than me, but she had to give up her dream of playing the sport at the highest level in order to help my parents at the dhaba.”
After putting in some consistent performances at the national level, Kavita joined the Sports Authority of India in Dharamshala in 2009. “At SAI, I concentrated on my game and gave my best. Soon, I was selected in the national team. My sister and parents always supported me. They wanted me to follow my passion. I would have never played for the Indian team without their unflinching support.”
“Subsequently, government support came in and that helped me to concentrate on my game and not worry about where the next meal was coming from,” she adds.
In 2011, Kavita had to take a break from the sport for six months after she was diagnosed with a digestive system ailment. “There was a massive breakdown in my digestive system. I was hospitalised for quite some time, and I was worried that I would never be able to return and play the sport again,” Kavita remembers.
But she made a roaring comeback the next year, helping India win gold at the 2012 Asian Kabaddi Championship. Kavita is a defender in the nine-member women’s team that will represent India at the 2018 Asiad. “In the last Asian Games, when we won the gold medal, I was an all-rounder. But, two years ago, our national coach told me to focus on one aspect of the game. And then I became a full-time defender,” says the 24-year-old.