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What separates a champion from the rest? The never-say-die attitude. Olympian Vijender Singh is a metaphor for the winning spirit. tell a friend
Olympic medalist Vijender Singh is a metaphor for the winning spirit. Editorial chief of os.me, Medha Shri, catches up with the celebrated pugilist Vijender Singh for Truth Be Told, to discover the secret of an undisputed fighter.
The sports icon is our next guest on Truth Be Told. A very simple man with an extraordinary spirit. He changed his fortune, brought laurels to the nation, and became a global sensation with consistent hard work. tell a friend

The phenomenal journey started with a hope of securing a low-ranking government job. “I just wanted a government job, any government job. I even tried for a sipahi’s post in CISF, but didn’t get it,” says legendary boxer Vijender Singh. He kept playing life’s blows like a pro, and became the first Indian pugilist to bring back an Olympics medal for the country. Life changed overnight. But all the nights until then were a test of his grit and indomitable spirit.

So what kept him going?

I wanted to discover the champion in him so that it can inspire all of us to strive, with that thought, I get him to make time for os.me. The very successful and very humble Vijender Singh joins me on a Zoom video call, one afternoon, right after returning home from his daily practice. “See I got a cut on my nose today, when we were sparring,” he shows his badge of honour.

Couldn’t afford gloves

You have seen some tough days, growing up in a house which had limited means. But what were some of the toughest days, I ask him?
“There are many, where should I even begin,” says Singh, adding, “When I started out, I couldn’t afford supplements, no medical care for injuries, not even boxing gloves… And not even a cycle to go to the venue, so I’d have to look for people who could offer me a lift,” remembers Singh, who is a celebrity athlete, fashion model, Bollywood actor and a politician, today. 

Father was a bus driver

He takes us to his childhood. “We are from Kaluwas, a village in Bhiwani district, Haryana. It’s a dry land, you can’t grow crops there. It mostly has infertile soil… We were a big joint family. My grandfather retired from the army. He was in the Jat regiment. My father was a bus driver in Haryana Roadways. He was the only one who had a government job. Our family, my grandparents, families of my father’s three brothers… All of us lived together. My sibling, my uncles’ three sons, we were known as Pandavas in the village and were famous for our mischiefs. So my roots are from that village,” says Singh, who has lived in the United Kingdom and the United Sates of America, because of his boxing career. He has his “own house” in the posh “South Delhi” today, where he lives with his wife, Archana Singh, and two sons.
 
“But even now when we go to the village, my wife says, ‘tu toh sehar ke liye bana hi nahi hai’, and I reply that I don’t even want to be a city dweller,” laughs Vijender Singh, “I feel at peace there. I have lived in the UK, US but they are no match for my village.”

Truth be told with olympian vijender singh [updated] 1
Couldn’t afford shoes or clothes

Talking of the tough times, he says, “There is a lot. What should I say… Pehan ne ke liye bhi kapde nahi the… Ek safed shirt thi, ek khaki pant, sarkari school ki uniform, wahi school bhi pehen li, wahi kisi function mei bhi.… Wahi koi rishtedar milne ajaye toh bhi … Ek bar mere mama ji ki sahdi mei jana tha, toh mere pas shoes nahi the uss time pe.  Main mere chachaji ke shoes mang ke le gaya tha. Mera shoe size was bigger than his. I think mine was 8 and his was 7… Tuffs ke shoes the, uss time pe ₹500 ek… Leander Paes ad karet the uska. Phir ek din mai Leadner Paes se mila.. I told him that story.
 
(We didn’t even have clothes to wear. I had one shirt and a pair of khaki pants which was my school uniform, but whenever we had to go for a function, say to attend a wedding. If there were guests visiting and we had to wear decent clothes, we had to make do with the same white shirt and khakhi pants… When we had to attend my maternal uncle’s wedding, I had no shoes. So, I borrowed my uncle’s shoes. He wears size seven, I used to be eight, but I still wore those. Those were Tuffs shoes and cost about ₹500, and we couldn’t afford that. Lawn Tennis ace Leander Paes used to endorse those shoes, and one day I had the opportunity to share that story with him).”

Took up boxing for the security of a government job

Vijender shares, “When my grandfather retired from the army, he brought back a pair of gloves with him. That was the first time we saw boxing gloves and even heard about the boxing sport. My brother and I would wear a glove each and spar. Then we heard that someone had got a government job because of boxing. So, that’s what got me interested. I started boxing to get a government job — a security ticket. I still remember there were All India Police Games in Bhiwani. I went there to meet the coach to get recruited as a sipahi in Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), but unke nakhre hote hain (they had their own tantrums).” So, this boxing sensation was rejected. However, he proved his mettle on the world stage. When he was later invited as a special guest at a public event, he related the tale to the CSIF DG.

Started boxing to get a government job... I went to meet the CISF coach for a sipahi's post back then, recalls Padma Shri Vijender Singh, who became the first Indian puglist to bring back an Olympic medal tell a friend

Dreams kept me going

Despite all the hurdles, Vijender focused on his craft. He worked as hard as he could, never resting, never stopping. Although he had won medals at Asian Games, Common Wealth Games and other international championships, truth be told, boxing is not really cricket. So, Singh kept struggling despite all the laurels, until 2008 when he became the first Indian boxer to clinch a medal at the Olympics.
 
What kept the celebrity boxer going? “Dreams kept me going. It’s all about dreams… I kept going, thinking maybe tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow, I will do better,” says Vijender who went pro in 2015. Since then, he has had 12 bouts, out of which he has won all 12!

Overnight celebrity

That day when he scored a bronze at Olympics, his life finally changed for better. He became a sports star. Suddenly, everyone was talking about this new good-looking, tall boxer who had stormed the scene with his deadly punches and hooks. “Yes, after 2008 life changed. My friends would say, we had only heard about life changing overnight, now we have seen it because of you… Sirf suna tha raaton raat zindagi badal jati hai, teri wajah se dekhbhi li kaise… Then my friends contributed money and bought me my first car,” remembers Singh, who then walked at the most popular fashion shows for some of the most aspirational fashion designers of the country, was signed on by brands as brand ambassador and was invited to some of the most high-profile events as chief guest.

The Family Support

“Whatever I am today, it is because my family supported me unconditionally. They had a lot of trust in me. Everytime I would lose a bout, my grandmother would say, ‘Never mind, when there is a competition, one wins, one doesn’t. Try harder next time’. My mother had a lot of faith in me. She would always say, ‘Koi na hojaga (Don’t worry, it will work out)’. They are my pillars of support. My dad would leave at 5:30am for his job and would return the next day late at night. I still remember, I’d be sleeping. He would pat my head lovingly, ask me about my day. If I told him about losing a fight or a setback, he would cheer me up. He trusted me. You know, there would be parents who would meet the coach, et cetera. My dad didn’t even know where I practiced, he knew I was sincere and whatever I would do, I would do well.”

The Making Of A Champion

“It wasn’t like I kept winning. The first national I played, I lost. The first Olympics I participated in, I didn’t win a medal. But I kept trying, kept working hard, kept going. Wo kehte hai na, ek din mei fasal hari nahi hojati (The crop doesn’t ripe in a day)… So I lost, I had setbacks, but I had this resolve, this zidd that I just had to win. Mai har kaise sakta hun, how can I lose. So, next day, I worked harder. So, whenever we fall down, we should get up and get going, falling down is not losing, giving up is,” says Singh, who was awarded Padma Shri in 20110, for contributing to Indian sports.

Spirituality and Meditation

I ask him if he is spiritual? “Yes, I am spiritual. I might not be religious, but I am spiritual. I believe there is a power that moves the universe and everything in it. And like my grandmother used to say, I always call spade a spade. I stand by the right,” says Singh.
 
With that kind of clarity and bliss, I am tempted to ask, if he meditates? “Yes, sometimes I do. Like only today I was thinking that I should start meditating again, it helps in staying focussed, ring mei bahut maar padti hai warna (Otherwise one gets punched a lot in the ring),” he smiles

The first flight and the Gucci shoes

I ask him if he ever thought he’d become such a celebrity. “No, my only aim was to secure a government job somehow,” he shares. Getting a little nostalgic, he says, “I still remember the first time I sat on a flight. The first flight was Air France, and I picked up even the tissue papers from the flight thinking what if I don’t ever get to sit in a plane again.”
 
And then he says, “And today… When we were in the UK recently, my elder son was like, ‘I want these shoes, yahi shoes chahiye...’. And I was I like these are Gucci shoes, and I shared with him that I didn’t have 500 ke shoes and today he wants Gucci, he wasn’t even 5 years old back then (laughs).” That’s what sets his man apart, he is grounded, proud of his roots

Dreams to Chase

Now that he has proved his mettle at the international stage, and has been a model, an actor, and now a politician, I ask him if he has anything else on his wishlist. “There is a lot,” pat comes the reply.
 
“My to-do list has a lot pending. There is so much in the world that one could do. I want to do everything. For example, I want to climb the Mount Everest! I don’t know why… Why not! It’s just my dream,” he says.

I want do so many things... like climbing the Mt Everest, says boxing legend Vijender Singh. Catch the conversation now. tell a friend

Bhagat Singh and Politics

One of the things that he has ticked off the list is being a politician. He contested the general elections in 2019. “I am into politics because I want to serve people, I want to give back. I read some beautiful lines today, ‘Just because you don’t take interest in politics, does it mean politics won’t take interest in you?’ That’s what I believe in. One shouldn’t be like mujhe kya lena hai (What do I got to do with politics). Then don’t regret later or blame the policies and the country. If you want to change things, get into politics and change things,” he says.
 
“I read about Bhagat Singh, his thoughts inspire me a lot. So, I feel even I have to do something for the nation. If young people don’t join politics, how will the nation progress? If I get a chance, I’d definitely do something for the betterment, something different from others… Let’s see when I get that chance.”

Making of a Champion

What separates a champion from the rest? The never-say-die attitude. And that attitude is a way of life for Olympian pugilist Vijender Singh. He kept going despite the hurdles, the lack of funds and support. He focussed on improving his game. He lost some, but he decided to win most. Even now when he is a star, he stays rooted, he enjoys his stardom and doesn’t get carried away.

Most importantly, practices every day, practices very hard. He would like to help anyone looking for guidance. “You know, when I started out, I didn’t have anyone to guide me. But if someone needs any guidance or support, I am here for them! Be it Bollywood, modelling, sports or just anything, please count on me,” says the  champion with a heart of gold.

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