Express News Service
BHUBANESWAR : It’s six in the morning and Sudarshan Sahoo is overseeing warm-ups by a large group of youngsters at Puri Stadium. The next one and a half hours will be full of physical activities – sprinting, weight-training, sparring to landing the punches right on the bags. There will be another such session in the afternoon. It’s a daily routine.
Boxing is no easy sport and Sahoo can vouch for that. It was his love for the game that saw him through most challenging times of his life. He took the punches but never backed down. A self-taught boxer who started with a district sub junior title, he has coached hundreds of youngsters from the slums free of cost, giving them a sense of identity and dignity.
Since 2010-11 when he started Puri Boxing Academy, Sahoo has trained over 500 children. The academy has the 53-year-old’s ancestral home as address but no infrastructure to call its own. Driven by the fire within, he has now turned Puri Stadium his ring.
Sahoo’s perseverance has paid off. Every year, at least five of his students compete in various categories in national levels. Medals have come. Smarak Ranjan Sahoo bagged a bronze in the 1st Khelo India School Games in 2018.
Before that, Akshaya Nayak had picked up a gold in sub-junior category of the Open National 2011 at Shillong. Subrat Pradhan grabbed a bronze in the U-14 boy’s event of the 58th National School Games 2012- 2013 at Madhya Pradesh.
Like kids of his generation of Puri, which has had a rich tradition of wrestling, bodybuilding and even boxing at “Akhadas” and “Jega Ghara”, he too was also inclined to sports. Sahoo was introduced to boxing at the age of 12 at Jaigada Jega Ghara in Kumbhara Pada where he continued till he was 16. “I first saw a pair of boxing gloves in the 1982 State meet where I won a silver medal for Puri district in sub-junior category. I participated in the National meet at Nagaland,” recalls Sahoo.
When he was in Class IV, Sahoo he lost his father and family’s feeble financial state forced him to drop-out at Class VI. “Because of my struggles in life, I was forced to earn a living at a young age and my aspiration for a career in boxing ended,” remembers Sahoo. But his love for game did not die even as he made a living. He opened a two-wheeler repair workshop at Jail Road in 1990.
Two years later, the idea of training underprivileged kids of his town struck him but the academy took a few more years. “During this period, I understood the importance of education. That’s why Puri Boxing Academy started with a slogan – ‘No school, No Boxing’,” he says.
Besides free coaching and equipment to children, he helped them with textbooks. Till date, his “No School No Boxing” initiative has brought 60 school dropouts of Puri slums back to school fold. Many of them are college graduates now.
Sahoo took a plunge in politics and was successfully elected as a councillor of Puri Municipality in 1997 and continued for four successive terms till 2018. He also helps form women’s committees in Puri and making the members access government schemes and skill training. He has motivated over 1,000 women to form women’s groups to work for their empowerment.
His work earned him a vice president position at Orissa Boxing Association. But he yearns for more support at institutional levels. Boxing was included in sports hostels of Sports and Youth affairs Department in 2014 only to be removed five years later. “It must be restarted,” he says.
2010-11: Started Puri Boxing Academy
2018: His student won bronze at Khelo India
Puri Stadium is his ring
500 Children have trained under him so far
60 Students Have been brought back to school by Sahoo
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