Sakshi Malik, who till a few months ago was just a girl in the sports fraternity trying to find her way, now has over 1 lakh followers on Twitter and a huge following otherwise, judging from the reactions in the crowd.
Getting here, however, wasn't easy. Sakshi had to convince her parents, battle boys and stereotypes and give up little pleasures in life to make it to the top.
"I don't meet my friends as often. With life having gotten so busy, I no longer have time to talk to them," she mentioned in the middle of talking about having muscles as a female and her love for soft toys — proving, she is just like the rest of us on the inside.
When she was starting, her parents, like anyone else's, were worried about her being a girl in wrestling. "My parents let me into the sport on one condition that my ears should remain intact," she said in response to a question on elephant ears, which are very common among wrestlers. "They had concerns about me getting hurt and not looking like a girl and initially I did get hurt, but then I started wearing ear guards during training," she said.
All these concerns and doubts were thwarted when she won the medal during the Rio Olympics — and she sure did it with swag when she sported the Indian flag nail art (and pink nails today at the event), "It was my dream to paint my nails like the Indian flag," she said.
Now after having wrestled some of the top sportspersons and having trained with boys, she feels comfortable in her own skin. "Initially, it felt awkward to wrestle with boys, but now it doesn't. In fact the boys feel more awkward wrestling with girls. They're afraid of losing to girls so they refuse to participate," she said.
After a gruelling round of questions by the moderator, Sakshi agreed to teach the audience some wrestling moves. "Double leg attack, which was taught by my coach, is probably my favourite move," she said as she proceeded to remove her heels and act it out on a scared member of the audience. He was on the ground in one swift move of "Dhobhi pacchaad", which according to her is perfect move if anyone attacks you on the streets.
Speaking about Haryana's sex ratio, Sakshi said, "When I started wrestling, there were only 3-4 girls in the centre. Slowly medals started coming and now girls have increased so much that it is difficult to accommodate all of them in the centre. At my centre there are a lot of junior girls, so I have to train with boys, but there's enough competition and experience in national camps. Now everyone practices with boys, it has become very common."
"Initially, our coach had to fight to set up a training centre for women wrestlers. He was looked down upon for starting an akhada for girls. But now that girls are performing better than boys, everyone has shut up. Women wrestling has improved a lot."
The audience whistled and hooted as Sakshi's family came up on the stage and her mom repeated her victory dance. The session ended with Sakshi throwing signed t-shirts to the audience.