Shalakha Sansanwal: Punching beyond age stereotypes

Struggles of women boxers in Delhi


February 27, 2024

/ By / Delhi

Shalakha Sansanwal: Punching beyond age stereotypes

At the age of 31, Shalakha Sansanwal is still going strong

At an age when most female athletes plan their retirement, 31-year-old international boxer Shalakha Sansanwal is still going strong.

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In the streets of Katwaria Sarai in South Delhi, Shalakha Sansanwal, a silver medallist in the 70kg category at the recently concluded 7th Elite Women’s National Boxing Championships, has defied conventions and challenges with her unwavering commitment to the sport.

Her introduction to the world of combat sports was unconventional, beginning at the age of 26, when she stumbled upon kickboxing during a fitness regimen. From being technically weak in her first year to clinching three national medals in the last five years, her meteoric rise exemplifies sheer determination and individual brilliance.

Unconventional entry into combat sports

Sansanwal recounts the incidental beginning of her journey to the sporting world that began in 2016 when she was already 26.

“I was more inclined towards academics, I struggled with weight issues, and it was my friends who suggested me to join a local gym to maintain a healthy lifestyle,’’ says Sansanwal in an interview with Media India Group.

She adds that it was during her fitness training that she came across a kickboxing event and which later switched to combat sports i.e. boxing.

But it was not an easy journey to the ring for Sansanwal.

“In my initial foray into boxing, my physical strength proved to be my saving grace, offering a distinct advantage. However, as I stepped into the ring during my first year, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the deficiency in my technical skills. Reflecting on those early experiences, it became evident that my journey was poised at a critical juncture. Despite grappling with these initial challenges, my inherent strength served as a catalyst for transformation, pushing me forward. This marked the genesis of a remarkable journey within the realm of boxing, where the fusion of raw physical prowess and a fervent desire to learn became the driving forces behind my evolution. Each obstacle encountered in those formative days became a stepping stone, laying the foundation for a resilient and determined pursuit of excellence in the world of pugilism,” she adds.

Sansanwal made her international debut in 2021

Sansanwal says that she has triumphed with sheer determination and individual brilliance, securing three national medals in the past five years and she made her international debut in 2021. But she is quick to add that her success is not just due to her perseverance and innate talent. She says that her family has had a big role to play in getting her where she stands today.

“I could showcase my talent at the national level due to support from family and friends. They supported my choice to pursue combat sports and I consider myself lucky,” she adds.

“At 31, I stood as Delhi’s sole medallist in the Elite Women’s National Boxing Championships, securing a silver. Amidst fierce competition, my prowess in the ring shone brightly, marking a solitary triumph for the capital city. The silver medal not only attested to my skill and dedication but also emphasised the scarcity of recognition for women boxers in Delhi,” she adds.

“I was surprised that the coaches in the camp only backed players who were ranked first and second in their respective weight categories. Despite being the fourth-ranked in my weight category, I didn’t receive much attention in the camp, and it was very discouraging. The coaches want readymade champions to earn instant fame, no one wanted to work on the greenhorn,” she adds.

Undeterred by the odds stacked against her, she persevered with unwavering determination. “I had my goals. I aspired to enhance my skills and deliver standout performances inside the ring. The burning desire to excel drove me to work tirelessly, although achieving gold at the national level remained elusive. My quest for excellence continued as I secured a second bronze at the national championships in 2021, this time in the 75kg category. Despite my consistent success, the experience at the subsequent national camp differed,” Sansanwal adds.

Triumphs and international debut

“I was again shortlisted for the national camp, but the dynamics were different this time, I was given the chance to compete at the international level after being ranked fourth in my weight category. I was sent to compete in an invitational boxing tournament in Kazakhstan. It was a good experience. But I lost in the quarter-finals against boxers from the host team as I wasn’t technically good,” she adds.

The following year brought its own set of challenges as Sansanwal missed the podium at the 2022 national competition, bowing out in the pre-quarters. Undeterred, she treated the result as a temporary hiccup rather than a long-term setback.

“After the national competition, I remained dedicated to my craft, persisting in my training regimen despite the meagre resources and lack of adequate facilities. In the absence of suitable training grounds in my vicinity, I used to practise on a rudimentary, cemented outdoor boxing ring,” Sansanwal tells Media India Group.

Delhi’s women boxers suffer due to lack of facilities

Sansanwal says that while she has managed to overcome the barriers of lack of adequate training facilities as well as lack of strong funding to help with the training, not every woman boxer in the capital has been able to handle the absence of vital elements that make a successful athlete.

“My being the  sole medallist in the 12-member Delhi women’s team shows the challenges that women boxers face at the grassroots level in the national capital. Despite being home to the Sports Ministry, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), and various National Sports Federations (NSFs), Delhi lacks the necessary facilities and opportunities for aspiring female athletes,” she adds.

The absence of facilities also leads to fewer women taking to the sport and this in turn negatively impacts the training of the few women like Sansanwal who have taken to the sport and stuck to it.

“There are no quality female sparring partners at the Sports Authority of India Boxing Club. During practise, my sparring partners are generally male boxers, it is not as productive, because male sparring partners have a guarded approach when the opponent is a female boxer,” Sansanwal adds.

The absence of facilities and lack of incentive for other women to join the sport also shows on the medals tally that the Delhi team ends up with. While the national capital bagged three medals, including a gold and two bronzes in the National Boxing Championship in 2021, the team has failed to bag anything in the last two years.

Sansanwal was only medallist from Delhi in Elite Women’s National Boxing Championship

“As a member of the Delhi women’s team, I’ve witnessed the impact of inadequate sports facilities on our performance trajectory. The lack of robust training infrastructure has dimmed our competitive edge, once standing proudly on the podium, we now face challenges in sustaining our winning streak. Our fluctuating fortunes highlight the pivotal role of well-equipped sports facilities in nurturing talent and maintaining peak performance. It underscores the urgent need for enhanced sporting infrastructure to bolster the aspirations of women athletes in Delhi,’’ she adds.

In the Sansanwal competition in 2023, Sansanwal stood out as the sole medal winner from Delhi, bagging a silver. But she has higher aspirations and advancing age notwithstanding, Sansanwal says she is determined to continue in the sport and reach the pinnacle at least once.

“I am happy that I won the silver medal in the national championships, but I will not stop until I achieve something big in the boxing ring. I want to win medals at the international level in the future. I have even put my marriage plans on hold, there is pressure from family and friends, but my focus is boxing right now,” she adds.



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