I could’ve done better without the injury: Pooja Gehlot

Despite her late initiation into wrestling and a career plagued by injuries, Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in 50kg, Pooja Gehlot, is determined to prove herself in bigger events.

An admirer of fellow-wrestler Vinesh Phogat and her solid leg defence, Pooja — who switched from volleyball to wrestling as a 17-year-old — said without her ankle issue she could have landed a better medal in the Birmingham Games.

“I injured my ankle one-and-a-half months prior to the Commonwealth Games trials. The doctor plastered the foot. I returned home from the camp, cut my plaster and started rehab and upper body training. I couldn’t have skipped the Games which come once every four years,” Pooja, the 53kg National champion, told The Hindu.

“I injured that ankle during the trials and had to rest before the Games. I could have done better without that injury.

“At the Games, I also injured my right elbow. Now, I cannot participate in the World championships and the National Games. I’m eyeing the Asian Games and the Olympics.”

After convincing her father, who initially dissuaded Pooja from wrestling due to the apprehension that she would develop cauliflower ears (typically seen in wrestlers), the youngster began her training at the Bankner akhara in Delhi in 2014 and secured an Asian junior gold in 2017. Since she was injuring herself frequently while sparring with male wrestlers, Pooja shifted to the Chhoturam akhara in Rohtak to train with girls.

“After losing a year due to an injury, I won a National under-23 gold medal in 2019 and a silver in 53kg in the World under-23 championships. But I injured my left elbow during the Worlds, went through a surgery and lost a year again.

“Thanks to the OGQ and the TOPS, my treatment was done smoothly.”

Even as she focuses on her rehab, 25-year-old Pooja has taken a cue from the support she received during tough times to work for the underprivileged children. For this, she has associated herself with the Smile Foundation’s ‘Siksha Na Ruke’ initiative.

“Feels good to motivate the poor kids. I also benefited because of someone’s backing,” said Pooja.

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