Poor financial condition, injuries and always playing second fiddle to the formidable Amit Panghal could not prevent boxer Deepak Kumar Bhoria from reaching the top. (More Boxing News)
The 25-year-old won the bronze medal at World Championships in Tashkent on Friday.
Hailing from Haryana's Hisar, Deepak started boxing on the insistence of his chachaji (uncle) Ravinder Kumar, who had harboured dreams of becoming a boxer himself but wasn't able to realise it.
Although his home guard father and homemaker mother weren't too happy with his decision to box, they let their 11-year-old follow his dream as he joined Rajesh Sheoran's Universal Boxing Academy.
"He came to me when he was 11 and a half. He was very lean and lightweight. He belongs to a poor family, the financial condition was quite bad," Sheoran, Deepak's first coach, told PTI.
"It was so bad that when he was playing state for the first time we had to make him drink excess water so that he could make the weight cut. He had no strength and had a very low body mass."
Sheoran still saw potential in the boy but Deepak's diet and nutrition was a cause of concern, and his humble background didn't make things easier.
"He was very talented and skilful, had all the attributes of a sportsperson. I saw capability in him. As a coach there is always a dream that one of my children should play Olympics. I knew he was Olympic material."
"We supported him a lot in terms of his diet. I would not drink juice, I would give it to him, to make sure he got juice twice a day. We gave him supplements. The other students would also give money to help him with his diet."
"We worked on strengthening and explosive strength. Now he has sharp punches."
Deepak was struck by a mighty blow when he suffered a career-threatening fracture to his right hand. The injury continued to trouble him for almost two years before he underwent surgery.
In order to remain financially stable, Deepak sometimes did the job of collecting payments for a friend's newspaper vending agency. When a vacancy opened in the Indian Army, Deepak applied and got selected.
While his financial troubles were taken care of, he formed a rivalry inside the ring with another Army boxer -- Amit Panghal. Both fought in the same weight category.
"He performed well in the internal Army unit competitions. But he's always had hard luck. He doesn't get anything fast. He beat Amit Panghal 2-3 times but still didn't get a chance to play the Nationals," Sheoran said.
"When he got the chance in his fourth attempt he got knocked out at his first Nationals. At the same time CWG and Asian Games trials were going on and he wasn't able to perform or give trials. Amit Panghal got a chance and he grabbed the opportunity by performing well."
While Panghal scaled new heights, winning medals at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and an unprecedented silver at the World Championships, Deepak was starved for competition.
"Woh uske karam hai mere karam mere paas hai, mere time ayega (He has his karma, I have mine, my time will also come)," Deepak's father Surinder distinctly remembers what his son said during that challenging period.
At the 2021 Strandja Memorial tournament, he upstaged one of the biggest boxers — 2019 world champion and Rio Olympic gold medallist Shakhobiddin Zoirov of Uzbekistan — in the semifinals.
He was picked for the ongoing Worlds ahead of Panghal based on the new selection policy, which was drafted by new High Performance Director (HPD) Bernard Dunne, under which boxers are evaluated over a period of time.
"Deepak went to Strandja where he beat an Olympic champion. Now he has got a chance to prove himself. The new staff has analysed him and seen the potential. He got a chance and he's proved that he deserved to be at the top," Sheoran said.
Deepak has a penchant for beating the big names, and at the ongoing Worlds, he defeated Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Saken Bibossinov.