Like many girls her age, Zareen Nikhat of Nizamabad in Telangana took up boxing watching London Olympics bronze-medallist MC Mary Kom. And before she realises, the 18-year-old could end up fighting her idol for a place in the Indian team: such is the stiff competition these days.
Zareen Nikhat surrounded by judokas Avtar Singh (left) and Garima Chaudhary. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
"I am still a junior and will be able to compete at international events once I turn 19. Mary Kom is my idol and I want to carry forward her legacy at the Olympics.
"There is fierce competition in the 51-kg category with Mary Kom and Pinky Jangra around," said Nikhat on the sidelines of the announcement of JSW's Sports Excellence Programme that currently supports 28 athletes from five disciplines — judo, wrestling, boxing, athletics and swimming.
Nikhat's foray into the sport wasn't easy. Hailing from a conservative family, she faced a lot of criticism before she could take up boxing.
"I come from a background where people believe girls should not be given the liberty to go out, leave alone engage in boxing. Even my family was not in favour of me taking up the sport until I was named the best boxer at the Erode Nationals in 2010.
"Only my father supported me and let me follow my dreams," said Nikhat who won a gold at the International women's boxing tournament in Serbia after her silver at the AIBA Women's Youth Boxing U-19 championship in Bulgaria earlier this year.