Teji Gurung looks like any other 17-year-old at first glance. She gets self-conscious a few minutes into the conversation. But ask her to demonstrate her boxing skills and she transforms into a powerhouse of energy. She punches the air vigorously, eyes narrowed and chest pushed out. Suddenly, she doesn’t care about the world around her and punches to an imaginary beat, her persona suggesting that no one dare mess with her. Boxing is her ticket to individuality.
Teji lives in Kathmandu with her elder brother. She was highly influenced by the film ‘Mary Kom’ which released in 2014 and she began training for the sport in her boarding school in Shillong. “I saw myself in the protagonist of the film and I instantly fell in love with her,” Teji laughs.
Soon the passion driven boxer moved to Kathmandu. Her father runs a hotel in Meghalaya, India and is very protective of his children. “The rate of rape cases was high then and my father decided to send me back home,” she recalls.
Immensely supported by her eldest brother and father, Teji initially started training at the Naxal Boxing Club and later moved to Rage Fitness. “My mother hesitated to enroll me into boxing. This is perhaps due to the misconception that you can get hurt in this sport. But it’s been four years now and she is glad that I proved her wrong,” she says. Currently completing her high school, Teji is the youngest among six siblings.
“The more I practised the more interested I got. It is not monotonous at all. The routines are different. And I am constantly pushed to do more by my coaches,” she says. When the opportunity arose, her coaches steered her to compete in the kickboxing championship. She was game for the challenge.
Her schedule got intense and she had to train twice daily. But hard work does pay and she was recognised as the youngest female in the tournament to win a gold medal at the recently held Bir Ganeshman Memorial 4th Open Kickboxing Championship. Buoyed by the win and now a national champion, she aims to represent the country on international platforms.
When asked if she was ever bullied for choosing boxing as a career, she quickly retorts, “Ask a woman, she will tell you what it is like to fight for her education, to wear what she wants, to date the man she wants, to marry the man she wants, to fight for her career and in between, even fight for what she is passionate about. I was bullied by some men but I am proud I proved them all wrong without having to utter a word,” she says in a breath.
Teji is glad that she started her sports career relatively early. But she is quick to point out that the sport welcomes every age group. “There is no age limit to kickbox: there are 55 year-olds who practise it for fitness. With age comes maturity with which comes inner strength. The knowledge that you can do something, that is motivation enough,” she says.
She credits her coaches and friends for her achievements, “They constantly push me to do better, to try harder and that is very important.” Manisha Rai, one of her closest friends in training says, “Teji has the attitude and the commitment. She constantly pushes herself. If she is asked to do 10 push-ups, she will do it irrespective of how tired she is. Teji is tough and resilient — the most important qualities for a boxer”.
Boxing gives her a sense of satisfaction; most importantly, it gives her hope. The game has won her respect and recognition. She signs off by saying, “It gave me an identity. Now I am not just someone; I am the girl who’s a boxer.”